Every Play Counts is Michael David Smith's weekly look at one specific player or one aspect of a team on every single play of the previous game.
Randy Moss had a big game on Sunday in the Patriots' win over the Rams, with seven catches for 102 yards. He became the 19th player in NFL history with at least 800 catches, and by notching his 52nd career 100-yard game, he moved into third place all time, behind only Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison.
And yet Moss also showed off some of the negative qualities that have shown up through most of his NFL career: disinterest in blocking, inconsistent route running, failure to fight for the ball every time it's thrown to him. It was a reminder that the man who infamously said, "I play when I want to," is still a great player -- but only when he wants to be.
The first pass to Moss on Sunday came on a second-and-9 late in the first quarter. Moss was matched one-on-one with Rams cornerback Ronald Bartell, and although Bartell slowed him down a little bit with a good bump at the line of scrimmage, Moss pushed through him, went over the middle and caught a Matt Cassel pass for 10 yards. That's the good Randy Moss.
And then on the very next play we saw the bad Randy Moss. Lined up along the left sideline, Moss casually jogged nowhere in particular when Cassel handed off to running back Kevin Faulk. Moss never even tried to block anyone, instead just watching as the cornerback across from him, Fakhir Brown, ran to the middle of the field. No, it didn't matter on the play, because Faulk got tackled before Brown got their, but if Faulk had broken through the Rams' defense, Brown's presence in the middle of the field would have prevented him from getting to the end zone.
I don't need a wide receiver to be a dominating drive blocker, or to lay people out like Hines Ward, but at least make an effort. Even if Moss had just done the same thing as the Patriots receiver on the other side of the field, Jabar Gaffney, I would have been satisfied. Gaffney was lined up opposite Bartell, and although Gaffney's block was nothing special, he at least slowed Bartell down a little bit. Is that too much to ask for Moss?
Moss had an even worse blocking effort (or lack thereof) on the Patriots' next series. On a second-and-9, New England had three receivers to the left, with Wes Welker in the slot, Moss split out wide and Benjamin Watson in between them. Cassel threw a quick pass to Welker behind the line of scrimmage, and this should have been a great opportunity for Welker to pick up a big gain after the catch because the Rams' defense was caught with only two players in the area.
Watson did his job, putting a great block on one of the two Rams in the area, outside linebacker Chris Draft. But do I even have to tell you what went wrong? Moss was supposed to block Brown but totally whiffed, barely even laying a finger on him. Brown drilled Welker, planting him into the turf for a loss of a yard. Moss just nonchalantly started walking back to the huddle without even helping Welker up. I'd love to be a fly on the wall when the Patriots' receivers watch that play this week.
Moss still has the ability to go deep, and the threat of him going deep dictated a lot of the Rams' coverage on Sunday. On a first-and-10 late in the second quarter, Brown was on Moss and was so clearly worried that the Patriots were going long that he actually turned and started running downfield a split-second before Moss released on his route. As it turned out, Moss cut off his route and turned inside after 15 yards, where Cassel hit him for an easy first down, thanks to Brown giving him such a big cushion.
And when the defense doesn't give Moss a cushion, he can make them pay for that, too. The Patriots had the ball at the 46-yard line with 18 seconds left in the first half, and whereas most teams would have been playing a prevent defense in that situation, the Rams had Brown in press coverage on Moss and Oshiomogho Atogwe coming on a safety blitz. That was a big mistake, as Moss blew past Brown, into the part of the secondary that Atogwe had vacated, and caught Cassel' pass seven yards past the line of scrimmage. He then raced downfield, zigzagging through the Rams' defense before finally stepping out of bounds after a gain of 30 yards. It was a spectacular play.
Two plays later, however, Cassel passed to Moss in the end zone, and Moss couldn't come up with it. Rams safety Jason Craft deserves a lot of credit for knocking the ball away, but Moss deserves at least some blame for getting two hands on the ball and failing to catch it.
Moss also got his hands on the first pass thrown to him in the second half, and that one bounced off his hands and into the hands of Atogwe for an interception. Moss ran a post route and looked rather lackadaisical while Atogwe and Brown both fought him for the ball. It was the kind of play that wouldn't be tolerated if Moss weren't capable of turning around and making such spectacular plays later in the game.
And Moss did make some big plays in the fourth quarter. He got into perfect inside position over Brown to pick up 12 yards with 10 minutes left in the game on a play that set up the field goal that tied the score 16-16. Of course, the Patriots wouldn't have had to settle for a field goal if Moss hadn't also dropped a sure touchdown pass on the same drive.
On the Patriots' final drive, which resulted in a Faulk touchdown that gave New England the winning margin of 23-16, Moss was the go-to guy. He caught all three balls thrown to him, for a total of 34 yards, and as a result, the headline in the Boston Globe the next day said, "Moss was clutch when it counted."
That's true. Except that in reality, all 60 minutes of the game counted, and Moss was only great for part of the time. No one can deny that Moss is one of the league's elite receivers, when he's playing his best. It's just too bad that he only plays his best when he wants to.
Every Play Counts: New England Patriots' Randy Moss Still Great When He Wants to Be originally appeared on NFL FanHouse on 2008-10-29T09:00:00+00:00. Please see our terms for use of feeds.