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Moss and Patriots: A good fit, so far

September 02, 2007|From the Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In his last season with Minnesota, Randy Moss caught a 34-yard touchdown pass. Then he pretended to drop his pants and moon the Green Bay crowd.

In his first game with Oakland the next season, he caught a 74-yard touchdown pass against New England. But early in his second year with the Raiders, he criticized coach Art Shell and some teammates.

Now, it's the Patriots who must deal with the entire package that is Randy Moss -- a touchdown machine that sometimes strays off-course.

Will playing on a team picked by many as a solid Super Bowl contender keep him in line?

Will his new, no-nonsense coach and the veteran leaders who demand players to be accountable get in his face if he takes plays off, as he has in the past?

So far, Coach Bill Belichick and his teammates have voiced no complaints. They say Moss works hard, studies his playbook and keeps them laughing. When he's gotten on the field, he's shown the speed, hands and leaping ability that made him one of the NFL's top receivers.

Now if he can only contribute on the field to a team that won three of the last six Super Bowls.

Injuries slowed Moss the last two seasons, but an ankle problem that sidelined him for the last three games in 2006 has healed.

Then he hurt his upper left leg on the sixth day of training camp with the Patriots and missed all four exhibition games. But he walked through the locker room the past two weeks with a smile and without a limp, and Belichick said he's getting closer to playing.

Moss hasn't been ruled out of the Sept. 9 opener at the New York Jets.

The injury occurred when he chased a deep pass from Tom Brady. He left the field, then had his upper leg taped.

"I overthrew him for the first time in about four months," said Brady, who worked with Moss earlier in minicamp. "You realize you've got to really put the ball out there for him because he just tracks it down so easily."

Moss, obtained for a fourth-round choice in a draft-day trade, was having a very good camp and rarely dropped a pass. Last season, he dropped many passes and said it was because he didn't care.

Asked on Tuesday if he had a minute to talk, Moss showed he hadn't left behind one of his habits as he shook his head and kept walking. The last interview he gave was after the first training camp practice, where fans cheered him repeatedly.

"It is exciting and it's good to feel the love," Moss said then, "but, at the same time, we have a job to do and we need to concentrate and focus on what we have to do on the field."

Moss has been picked for five Pro Bowls in his nine seasons. He is fifth in NFL history with 101 touchdown catches, has seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons and has missed just six games in nine years.

That talent, still evident at age 30, gives the Patriots a dangerous deep threat and often brings double teams. He said he won't be bothered if he's a decoy opening up space for other receivers. In the past, he's complained about not getting the ball enough.

"If people don't adjust to our standards, they won't be here," team owner Robert Kraft said the day of the trade.

Brady has many targets, including newcomers Donte' Stallworth and Wes Welker and holdovers Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney.

"Who doesn't want the ball?" Moss said on his first day of training camp. "I think that just makes us as a whole unit, all of the skill positions, work a little harder."

Moss has done some unorthodox things on the field, from making great catches to squirting a water bottle at an official, for which he was fined $25,000 in 1999.

Tight end Kyle Brady had seen a lot in his 12 seasons before joining the Patriots this year. Is Moss really a different person than his reputation suggests?

"That [view] might be based on some of the assumptions a lot of people had and a caricature that you have of the guy that maybe doesn't even necessarily align with what he is on a day-to-day basis," Kyle Brady said. "He's been a good teammate, a hardworking guy, enthusiastic about competing and playing.

"So I think each person here pretty much has the perspective that we're not going to rush to any judgments."

Stallworth already has reached one conclusion: "I don't know anything about that other stuff, but he's a funny dude, man."

Moss will have to tone down his antics, though.

The NFL has new rules limiting on-field celebrations. And Belichick demands a team-first approach with little room for individual showmanship -- a philosophy enforced by Brady, defensive leaders Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, and others.

"In this place, as much as any," Kyle Brady said, "there's a culture of accountability. . . . It encourages people to kind of fall in line."

So if Moss, or any receiver, pulls up on a pattern when the ball's not headed his way, it's unlikely to escape his coaches' or teammates' attention.

Belichick did his homework before trading for Moss, who was fined $10,000 for the mooning -- something Green Bay fans have done to opponents' team buses.

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