|You have to salute Randy Moss, who became the 20th NFL player with 800-plus catches. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
Moss was clutch when it counted
FOXBOROUGH - That ball Matt Cassel lofted into the end zone early in the fourth quarter of yesterday's battle with the Rams looked like a sure touchdown when it left his hand, but it didn't wind up where he wanted - in the hands of Randy Moss.
Moss dropped what would have been a go-ahead TD.
Later in the quarter, though, when Cassel was looking his way again, Moss came up big, hauling in three passes for 34 yards during the winning drive. Moss came across the middle to snare a 23-yard reception to get the Patriots into St. Louis territory and Cassel completed a 15-yard TD pass to Kevin Faulk for a come-from-behind 23-16 win.
Moss, who made an early exit from the locker room and was not available after the game, finished with a season-high seven catches for 102 yards. It was his third 100-yard receiving performance of the season - 116 vs. Kansas City and 111 vs. San Francisco - and the 58th 100-yard game of his career. That's the third most in NFL history. Marvin Harrison is second with 59.
Moss also recorded his 800th career reception on his first catch of the day, a 10-yard grab in the first quarter. He became the 20th player in NFL history to break the 800 mark and did it in the fifth-fewest number of games in league history.
Moss was obviously a favorite target of Tom Brady's last season, and, since taking over as starter, Cassel has talked every week about getting Moss the ball more. That hasn't necessarily meant going deep. He had the nice screen play against Denver a week ago and Cassel looked for him over the middle a lot yesterday.
"He is such a good receiver," Rams cornerback Ron Bartell said. "He is so crafty and he has seen every possible defensive coverage out there. I thought we did a really good job of man-to-man. Most of the balls he caught in man-to-man coverage were slants. You can live with that. I think they did a really good job of attacking us when we were in zone and in the middle of the field. They did some different things to free him up."
Moss had a long catch of 30 yards late in the second quarter that pushed the Patriots to the Rams' 16. Cornerback Jason Craft broke up a pass thrown to Moss in the end zone with six seconds left. The Patriots settled for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal, but they did go to the locker room ahead, 13-10.
The second half started ominously for the Patriots. Their first four possessions went interception, interception, failed fourth-and-1 conversion, and a three-and-out.
The first interception went off Moss's hands and into those of safety Oshiomogho Atogwe. The Ram safety has 11 interceptions in his last 15 games. On Cassel's second interception, intended receiver Wes Welker fell down and cornerback Fakhir Brown picked off the pass.
"Those things are going to happen, where a guy falls down or a tipped ball happens," said Cassel, who finished 21 of 33 for a career-high 267 yards. "The main thing I thought was great for the offense was that we didn't get discouraged. We knew the plays were there; we just didn't make them. Then we came back and made the play when it counted at the end."
St. Louis managed only 3 points off the two third-quarter turnovers. The Rams went ahead, 16-13, early in the fourth.
Cassel led his first career fourth-quarter comeback, directing the seven-play, 53-yard drive.
"That was huge," Welker said. "To finally get that drive really fit together and put points on the board - and not just points, putting a touchdown up there where they would have had to go the distance to come back - that was big for us. And Kevin made a heck of a play."
Welker had seven catches and became the fourth player in NFL history to have six or more receptions in each of the first seven games of a season.