Moss proving as handy as ever for Patriots

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / October 3, 2010

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Watching at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., Cris Carter’s co-workers jumped up around him, in awe of the play that had just unfolded.

Carter was not nearly as impressed.

Sure, Randy Moss had caught a pinpoint 34-yard touchdown pass in stride with his right hand, his left arm almost deliberately tucked behind his back to increase the degree of difficulty and “wow’’ factor.

But Carter had seen Moss make that play before, just as Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his teammate Kevin Faulk had. To them, that score, which came against Moss’s recent nemesis, the Jets’ Darrelle Revis, was routine.

Moss has made a career out of making eye-popping catches look easy and even the most talented cornerbacks look overmatched. How many other receivers have had their name turned into a verb? To get “Mossed’’ is to be beaten in the shake-your-head way the gifted receiver has done it for well over a decade.

Now in his 13th season in the NFL, the lanky 34-year-old has gotten to the point where he is reaching a milestone in nearly every game. Last week, he became just the second player in league history with 150 regular-season receiving touchdowns when he pulled in a 7-yard pass from Tom Brady against Buffalo.

Only Jerry Rice had more, with 197.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all,’’ said Carter. “His rookie year, he had 17 touchdowns and most people don’t know that for the most part, he was hurt all year.

“What I’ve seen from Randy, he has a very unique skill set: his size, being able to catch with one hand, left or right, his speed.

“I’m not surprised at all.”

Carter was already 11 years into his own standout career when Minnesota made Moss its first-round draft pick in 1998, and the two were Vikings teammates for four years before Carter spent his final season with Miami.

When Moss arrived in the Twin Cities after rewriting the record books at Marshall in just two years at the school, it didn’t take Carter long to realize that the blazing-fast, 6-foot-4-inch rookie was special.

After being passed over 20 times before the Vikings chose him 21st overall, Moss vowed to make the teams who didn’t want him pay. In his very first game, against Tampa Bay, he had touchdown catches of 48 and 31 yards. On Thanksgiving that season, in Dallas — the team Moss grew up rooting for and that he claimed had promised to draft him — Moss had three receptions, all touchdowns, all over 50 yards.

He has continued to find the end zone with frequency since then.

Incredibly durable despite a frame that would suggest otherwise, the West Virginia native has failed to reach double-digit touchdowns just three times in his career, and two of those were during his lost stint in Oakland.

Three years ago, Moss arrived in New England, traded from the Raiders on draft weekend. There were questions about his desire and how much he had left, concerns that weren’t allayed when Moss missed the preseason with a hamstring problem.

But re-energized by the opportunity to play for a winning franchise and with a great quarterback, Moss has shown he had plenty left.

Asked if there was one practice play during Moss’s early days in New England that was jaw-dropping, Faulk said, “Funny, it was more than one moment. A few moments. And I think it was everybody on the team that was like, ‘Wow, OK.’ And then it started getting normal: ‘OK, we see what we got, now let’s go to work.’ ’’

Asked about Moss’s achievements, Belichick noted his ability to score in nearly any situation.

“He’s an outstanding red-area receiver and he’s a great vertical receiver,’’ Belichick said. “I’m not sure what the breakdown would be on those 150, but I’m sure a lot of them are deep balls, plays kind of behind the defense. I’m sure a lot of them are plays probably inside the 10-yard line, where he’s a big target with good hands that can get open and use his size and his catching skills, playmaking skills, to just gain position on the defender and make the play.’’

The numbers prove Belichick correct. Though Moss has had his share of breathtaking long-ball touchdowns, he has had nearly as many in tight quarters. Of his 151 TDs, 71 have come inside the red zone and 48 of those were in goal-line situations. He has recorded scoring grabs of 1 yard and 82 yards and almost every distance in between.

Amazingly, he is showing no signs of slowing down. Since arriving in New England at age 30, in a span of just 51 games, Moss has a league-high 50 touchdowns. That ranks him second in team history to Stanley Morgan, who scored 68 touchdowns over 13 seasons.

Faulk points to Moss’s work ethic, with Carter adding that as he’s gotten older, Moss has started doing the extra things, like improving his diet, getting massages, and visiting the chiropractor to keep himself at an elite level.

“Randy cares a lot more than he allows people to believe,’’ Carter said. “He cares; I know that. I know he wants to play a lot longer than he imagined — he always said he wouldn’t play this long.’’

Moss will continue to rise in the record books this season. He is less than 400 yards away from becoming the fourth receiver to eclipse 15,000 receiving yards, and he can break the record he shares with Rice for 10-plus touchdown seasons (he has nine). He also has a realistic shot of reaching 1,000 career catches, something only seven other players have done; he enters tomorrow night’s game with 935.

Though he is in the final year of a three-year contract, Moss has made no secret of his desire to remain in New England, and Brady has said he wants him to stick around, too.

There seems to be no doubt that he will enter the Hall of Fame, but the debate already has begun as to where Moss falls among the game’s great receivers.

“The only one I’ve seen better than Randy in the last 30 years is Jerry Rice,’’ said Carter, who insisted that Moss will reach 200 touchdowns.

“How do I rank him?’’ asked Faulk. “The best to ever do it. That’s still doing it. At a high level.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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