Patriots' evolving offense gets Moss rolling

November, 23, 2008
11/23/08
8:54
PM ET
 
 Doug Benc/Getty Images
 Patriots receiver Randy Moss had his best outing of the season (eight catches, 125 yards, three touchdowns) in a win against the Dolphins Sunday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

MIAMI -- Miami Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell was informed Randy Moss felt insulted they would dare use single coverage against him.

Bell didn't know what Moss expected from them.

The New England Patriots emptied their backfield, lined up extra receivers and operated out of the shotgun. There's only so much a pass defense can do.

"When they spread out five wide, you can't double anybody," Bell said. "How do you do that?"

The Dolphins clearly didn't have any answers. Moss had been marginalized so often, but on Sunday he enjoyed his finest game of the season and one of the best of his career to help the Patriots defeat the Dolphins 48-28, tying the season series.

"It's the kind of stuff you dream up on video games," Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson said of Moss' performance: eight receptions, 125 yards, three touchdowns.

It was the sort of afternoon Moss grew accustomed to last year, while the Patriots obliterated records with Tom Brady at the controls.

Those explosive games became less common after Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener. Moss has walked off the field with 26 or fewer yards four times. He was kept out of the end zone six times in his first nine games.

"Today we had a great day," Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel said, "and I'm happy to be able to go out there and have some production with [Moss]. We've got to keep doing that and keep going to him and let him do what he does best, which is make plays."

Moss, feeling slighted the Dolphins didn't think he was enough of a threat to double-team him, thrived against single coverage.

With Cassel maturing to the point the Patriots can pick up their 2007 user's manual, the Patriots' offense seemed a lot like the one that almost went unbeaten with Brady.

"Any time I feel disrespected I want to go out there and make it happen," said Moss, who passed Cris Carter for third on the all-time receiving touchdowns list with 132. "I think they disrespected me today by really playing single coverage and really letting me have fun and do what I love to do and get in that end zone."

Jason Allen, who has had trouble finding a regular position since being drafted 16th overall in 2006, was given the assignment of guarding Moss a majority of the game. The decision didn't work well.

"I'm always amazed at what Randy can do," Cassel said. "He's got amazing hands, [with] his body control and how's able to control the defender with his body and then go up and get the ball."

Moss scored two touchdowns against Allen -- a 25-yard catch and run in the second quarter and an 8-yard end-zone lob in the third, both to retake leads.

Moss' other touchdown was a 29-yard fly pattern up the left sideline against usual starting cornerback Andre Goodman early in the fourth quarter to put the Patriots ahead by 10 points.

I asked Moss if he was surprised Jason Allen and not Will Allen was lined up against him for most of the afternoon. Will Allen is Miami's best cornerback and playing at a Pro Bowl level.

"I don't really care who it is," replied Moss, speaking publicly for the first time in three weeks. "If I see single coverage, man-to-man, I feel that I can beat anybody in this league, any given day.

"I think today was one of those days where it's something I haven't seen in a while. I always preach any time I see single coverage that most of the time the safety is over the top. So single is what it looks like, but really it's double -- 'Double Moss.'

"Today was single coverage. The safety stayed in the middle. Our offense executed. We really came to play today."

Bell was disappointed with Miami's inability to shut down Moss. The Dolphins went into the game 19th in NFL pass defense.

"He's one guy," Bell said. "He's Randy Moss, but at the same time he's a human being. Ain't nothing special. You can't be scared of him. They just spread us out and got him in some good situations and he took advantage of it."

New England's offense is evolving with Cassel, who completed 30 of 43 passes for 415 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. He also ran for a touchdown.

Cassel became only the fifth quarterback since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 to throw for 400 yards in back-to-back games. His 415 yards is the fifth-most in Patriots' history, with Drew Bledsoe owning the top four performances.

Getting Moss involved helped the Patriots stockpile 530 total yards, the second-most real estate in franchise history behind the 597 yards they gained against the New York Jets in 1979.

"I mean, we blitzed them," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "We played man. We played zone. We played off. At the end of the day, the guy just kept finding people. That's what he's been doing pretty well. They caught and ran with the ball a little bit and made a bunch of plays."

For perspective, Moss caught four passes for 25 yards the last time he faced the Dolphins. That was Cassel's second career start, when the offensive strategy had more to do with keeping Cassel from situations in which he wouldn't make costly mistakes.

The Patriots don't have to play it so safe anymore. Cassel is growing up every week. He's reading defenses, finding his receivers, making the throws.

"Man, it's just a normal day at the office," Moss said with a smile as he left the podium.

Compared to what the Patriots' offense did last year, the plays sure are starting to look familiar.

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