A Sort of Homecoming

Not just a classic U2 song from The Unforgettable Fire disc, but an apt description of the return of Deion Branch as the Patriots move into the post-Randy Moss era.

Do I think Randy Moss gave the Patriots their best chance to win the Super Bowl.  Well, yes I still think he's an awesome weapon for any offense. Do I understand why they traded him for a miniscule 3rd round pick? You bet I do.  (Did I voraciously root against Deion Branch while he was in Seattle. Umm, yeah. Sorry about that Deion.)

Randy Moss appeared to be a couple weeks away from a full-on meltdown.  There are situations where change is needed despite the fact that the team unloading the problem player has to take whatever they can get and be happy to remove the distraction and be done with him.  Think of Manny Ramirez quitting on the Red Sox in 2006 and again in 2008.  (Don't remember 2006? Here's a reminder: Boston Globe) Anyone want the Patriots and Moss to get to that point? Nope, me either. But apparently it was well on its way to that point.

Now a talent like Randy Moss does not come along every year, but the Patriots need their offensive skill positions to take the step their defense has done and become younger.  No, Brandon Tate is not close to the receiver Moss was, but he can become a vertical option and team with 3rd round pick Taylor Price next year as a springboard to the future at the wide receiver position.

Yes, the Patriots do not have anyone who can jump in and replace the Randy Moss deep option. But, then again, neither do about 24 other teams in the NFL and they'll survive. Pittsburgh unloaded Santonio Holmes because of character, locker room, and potential distractions reasons. Sure, they kept el dope at QB, but apparently they believe they will survive the loss of Holmes and are certainly not missing a beat this year. 

Maybe, just maybe (no, not Maebe Funke from Arrested Development) the Pats are better off without Moss after all.  I sure as heck do not believe their offense is better without Randy Moss drawing double-coverage and opening up the deep pass, but removing a gigantic locker room distraction can only help the team long-term and a team divided wins nothing. Of course, somewhere in the back of my head is a little voice screaming "You win with TALENT!"

Head Troll Kerry Byrne over at http://www.coldhardfootballfacts.com/ opines that maybe Brady-Moss is not all it is hyped up to be. On his post of 10/14/2010, he states:

But Moss’s productivity – as measured by passer rating – had declined in production each year since 2007, according to the data compiled by Deep Threat. Here’s a look at the Brady-to-Moss connection over the years (including Matt Cassel-to-Moss in 2008):

2007: 98 of 160, 61.3%, 1,493 yards, 9.3 YPA, 23 TD, 4 INT, 121.2 passer rating
2008: 69 of 125, 55.2%, 1,008 yards, 8.1 YPA, 11 TD, 4 INT, 97.7 passer rating
2009: 83 of 137, 60.6%, 1,264 yards, 9.2 YPA, 13 TD, 8 INT, 98.3 passer rating
2010: 9 of 22, 40.9%, 139 yards, 6.3 YPA, 3 TD, 2 INT, 64.2 rating

Even more damning:

•In 2007, half of Brady’s picks (4 of 8) came when targeting Moss.

•In 2008, Cassel threw 4 of his 11 picks when targeting Moss.
•In 2009, more than half of Brady’s picks (8 of 13) came when targeting Moss.
•In 2010, both of Brady’s picks (2 of 2) came when targeting Moss.
In other words, the numbers confirm what you might have expected: targeting a deep threat, even a rare and elite performer like Moss, is a high-risk, high-reward venture. And, over time, the risks rose and the rewards declined.

Heck, those kind of stats make you wonder if perhaps Bill Belichick really is that far ahead of the curve. Personally, I hope so. Truthfully, I wonder if Tom Brady is happy to lose one of the biggest weapons in the NFL weeks after signing a long term deal.  Yes, Wes Welker is still around, and Aaron Hernandez is that something special at tight end the Patriots have been looking for since Ben Coates faded away, but is it enough on offense?

In Bill We Trust, right?