FOXBOROUGH - Mother Nature did what few NFL defenses can yesterday, take Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss out of his element.
Moss, who had four catches for 45 yards, was guilty of dropping balls in the rain drops, and he owned up to it after the game.
The all-world wide receiver dropped a pass that would have been a 30-yard gain in the first quarter, and then most damagingly dropped a sure TD pass in the back of the end zone on second and goal from the 9 with 31 seconds left in the half. That proved costly when Stephen Gostkowski pushed a 27-yard field goal attempt wide right.
"I'm speaking for myself. I really felt very disappointed in my play," said Moss. "Bill [Belichick] says time and time again, 'Do your job.'
"I always say as a wide receiver your job is to get open, catch the ball, and score the touchdown. That first half and the whole game. There was really nothing to say. We dropped balls. I didn't really have a good game, man, so I put a lot of the blame on myself because I think this team really looks to me to do my job week in and week out.
"I don't want to blame it on the rain or weather. The balls were there. They just weren't caught. That's something we can hopefully rebound from. But it does hurt. It's a bad taste."
Moss wasn't alone in not being able to corral the ball in the rain. Jabar Gaffney dropped one at the Pittsburgh 23 that would have been a 33-yard gain in the fourth quarter, and Pittsburgh had drops by Santonio Holmes, Heath Miller, and Willie Parker in the first half and Nate Washington in the second.
The weather clearly affected receivers, and Moss, who had just two catches for 1 yard in the second half, admitted the wet conditions can mess with a pass-catcher's psyche.
"I think for the most part once you start catching you get into a rhythm and then you start feeling good," he said. "Once you drop one ball and you drop another ball I think it does start to affect you mentally. That is why they call us professionals because we are supposed to let the bad go, and get back to playing football.
"I know from my standpoint, that I didn't play good today. I am not blaming it on the weather. I'm not blaming it on the rain. The balls were hitting my hands and hitting my body. I just couldn't secure the catch. Hopefully, I can come out and have a good week of work and put this all behind me."
The Patriots were just 1 of 13 on third downs. They were 0 for 6 in the first half, and even failed on a QB sneak on third and 1 in the second half.
New England, which was 2 for 2 on fourth down, didn't convert a third down until the final play of the game, when quarterback Matt Cassel hit running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis for a 20-yard gain on third and 12 from the Pittsburgh 41.
That was it.
"You can't win like that," said Gaffney. "You got to pick up third downs and keep the ball. We didn't do a good job of that."
Belichick said the credit goes to Pittsburgh.
"They are a good third-down defense. They lead the league in it," he said. "I think we need to do a better job than we did."
Wide receiver Wes Welker was knocked out of the game late in the third quarter after taking a vicious hit by safety Ryan Clark late in the third quarter on an incomplete pass over the middle. Clark was called for unnecessary roughness.
Welker, who had his NFL record streak of consecutive games to start the season with six or more catches snapped at 11, did not return, finishing with four catches for 30 yards.
After the game, Belichick said he didn't have anything to say about the hit. Clark, who clearly went for Welker and not the ball, said he didn't have malicious intent.
"It was not like I was trying to be cheap," said Clark. "Anybody that comes across [the middle] it is my job to tackle them. The ball got tipped, but [the official] said I should not have left my feet. I do not know how to control that. I talked to Kevin Faulk and apologized. I could not find Welker after the game to tell him I was not trying to be dirty."
Playing it safe
Defensive end Ty Warren was forced to sit out for the second time in three games. Warren was inactive with a groin injury, the same injury that prevented him from playing in the Patriots' 34-31 overtime loss to the Jets Nov. 13. He was replaced at left defensive end by Mike Wright.
Warren returned last week against the Dolphins but admitted he was at less than 100 percent. Possibly not wanting to risk further injury on a slick field, the Patriots sat him out.
When asked about his condition on Friday, Warren had sounded as if he planned on playing.
Woods hurt, too
Linebacker Pierre Woods was forced to leave in the third quarter with a mouth injury. He was replaced at outside linebacker by Gary Guyton. Woods was already subbing for Adalius Thomas, who is out with a broken forearm. "We will see what we have for next week," said Belichick . . . Mike Vrabel's leaping first-quarter interception of Ben Roethlisberger was the first by the Patriots linebacker since Dec. 3, 2006 . . . The Patriots had won 23 straight games when scoring first before yesterday. The last such loss was Nov. 12, 2006, to the Jets . . . Despite practicing all three days this week on a limited basis, running back LaMont Jordan, who's been sidelined by a right calf injury, was inactive for the eighth straight game. The Patriots were also without wide receiver and special teamer Kelley Washington (thigh). The other Patriots inactives were Thomas, reserve offensive linemen Wesley Britt and Billy Yates, and tight end Tyson DeVree. Matt Gutierrez was the third QB.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com.