Fade pattern from Moss
Panthers: We knew he’d shut it down
FOXBOROUGH - Randy Moss was out there with the Patriot captains before the kickoff yesterday, even after all that’s happened in the last week.
And at that point, he might as well have ripped the captain’s “C’’ off his chest, handed it to Wes Welker, and joined LateGate mate Adalius Thomas on the couch.
It probably would’ve been better for New England.
Yes, the Patriots came out with a badly needed 20-10 win over Carolina. Yes, the offense - and no one more than Tom Brady - turned in a gutsy effort in adverse conditions.
But this time, those guys, and the rest of the Patriots, did it despite Moss, not because of him.
When the Patriots needed Moss most, he was all of the playmaker Joey Galloway was earlier in the season. Which is to say, not much of one at all.
“He was frustrated in himself and the situation and it’s just something you’ve got to fight through,’’ Brady said after he showed plenty of fight while battling injuries to his ribs and the ring finger on his throwing hand. “He keeps fighting through it and you have those days where it’s not all that great, but you keep lining up and you keep going up. You’ve just got to keep fighting.’’
Talk to those covering him yesterday and they’ll tell you Moss didn’t.
The question becomes whether anyone should be surprised.
Moss was one of four players late for an 8 a.m. team meeting Wednesday, joining Thomas, Derrick Burgess, and Gary Guyton in being banished from the Foxborough facility.
Some players would take that kind of punishment as a wake-up call, and show up big on Sunday. If you thought Moss would, you need a history lesson.
The rap on Moss has never changed. When the going gets tough, he packs it in. He was forced to do that by the coaches earlier in the week. And yesterday, the Panthers knew they could make him do it again.
“We knew he was going to shut it down,’’ Carolina cornerback Chris Gamble said after the game. “That’s what we wanted him to do . . . he’d just give up a lot - slow down, he’s not going deep, not trying to run a route. You can tell [by his] body language.
“I know everyone who plays against him, they can sense that. Once you get into him in the beginning of the game, he shuts it down a little bit.’’
The process started early yesterday. The Patriots’ third possession ended when Gamble picked off a Brady throw to the sideline, which came, coincidentally, one play after a Moss drop.
The Panthers corner said laziness by Moss telegraphed the route. So Gamble’s job was easy - break on the ball, catch the ball.
“That’s what I got out of it,’’ Gamble said. “He came out of [his break], but it wasn’t hard, and I broke on the ball.’’
Moss was next seen on the first play of the second quarter. The Patriots drove 47 yards to set up first and 10 at the Panther 37.
Brady threw a deep in-cut to Moss, which the receiver gathered for a 16-yard gain. Safety Chris Harris came steaming at him, dislodged the ball with a big hit, and, really, maybe more than that.
The game plan to be physical with Moss - at the line and downfield - was taking shape.
“That’s what it is with him,’’ Harris said. “You get physical with him, and I don’t want to say he quits, but he kind of doesn’t run the routes the way they’re supposed to be run. If you get a jam on him, he’ll just ease up. He had the one catch, and he fumbled.’’
And that fumble led to what the Panthers planned for - a mentally defeated Moss.
So where they gave safety help to their corners early on, the Panthers said they eased off as the game went on, and Moss failed to make them pay for it.
It was especially obvious in the fourth quarter. On a second and 11 from the Carolina 30 with 7:34 left, Moss, one-on-one against Gamble, ran a drag and dropped a ball he could’ve turned upfield to help New England close out the Panthers. So the Patriots kicked a field goal, and Carolina was still in the game, down, 17-10.
On the next New England possession, a crucial third and 8 became third and 13 because of a Moss false start. The Patriots failed to convert, and were bailed out by a roughing-the-kicker call that put them in field goal range, allowing Stephen Gostkowski to close the game out.
But even then, it was clear the old blueprint for beating Moss was working as if Darrelle Revis was executing it.
“We stayed on top of him,’’ Harris said. “We were not going to let him catch a deep pass. That’s his game. If he can’t get it going, he gets out of synch.’’
Gamble added, “We know from watching film on Moss, once you get him out of the game early, he’s going to shut it down.’’
Really, the seminal moment - akin to Derek Jeter diving into the stands during a 2004 Yankees-Red Sox game as Nomar Garciaparra sat out - came early in the third quarter.
Welker’s 100th catch of the season came on an underneath route on the Patriots’ second drive of the half. He pulled in the ball at the New England 6 and absorbed a crushing blow from Carolina safety Charles Godfrey, then almost immediately popped to his feet.
It was his first of five catches for 64 yards on New England’s 13-play, 96-yard, game-turning drive, a march on which Moss was invisible.
“They’re two different breeds,’’ Gamble said. “Welker’s just a tough, hard-nosed guy. He got hit and he got back up. I can’t see Moss getting hit, catching slants, getting banged around, and getting back up.
“I respect Wes’s game. He’s going over the middle all the time, getting hit, that’s the majority of his catches, linebackers ready to hit him. And he gets hit, gets right back up.’’
Moss took shots too, during the week for being late, and during this game, and reacted differently.
Afterward, Moss’s teammates stuck up for him, intimating he’s simply an easy target for people to go after.
The Panthers would agree.
Albert R. Breer can be reached at email@example.com.