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Sunday, September 9, 2007
Moss begins his new life with a big bang

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Sidelined for a month in training camp by a nagging hamstring injury, and having logged zero snaps in his first preseason with the Patriots, wide receiver Randy Moss approached Sunday's opener with a nervousness he hasn't often confronted in his mostly electrifying NFL tenure.

But after seeing Moss and the Pats dismantle the Jets, 38-14, it's the rest of the NFL that figures to experience some queasiness this year when confronted by the Patriots' newest offensive weapon.

"When I came [to the Patriots]," Moss said of the April trade that rescued him from his humbling two-year experience in Oakland, "I said that I wanted to showcase my talents again. And I think, today, that I did that."

Randy Moss
The Jets tried to use single coverage on Moss for most of Sunday's opener. It didn't work.
For those who questioned how much his skills eroded during his Oakland exile, 30-year-old Moss turned back the clock, and turned the overmatched New York secondary inside out. Quarterback Tom Brady threw nine passes to Moss (who participated in 38 of New England's 65 offensive snaps), and the wide receiver caught them all, for 183 yards and one touchdown. All but one of his catches went for double-digit yardage, and five were for 18 or more yards.

On Moss' touchdown grab, a 51-yard deep crossing route in the third quarter, he got a quick release against Jets rookie cornerback Darrelle Revis. He then beat a trio of defenders -- cornerback David Barrett, who was his foil much of the day; inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma; and strong safety Erik Coleman -- to Brady's adroitly lobbed pass.

The touchdown snapped a seven-game scoreless streak for Moss, the longest such stretch of his career. And it should quell talk -- including rumors that the Patriots were so disenchanted with the injured Moss this summer that they considered releasing him -- that his career is in a perilous spiral. The 183 receiving yards represented the third-most in New England franchise history and are the fourth-most of Moss' career.

Sure, it's only one game, and not every outing will produce such scintillating results. But for those who wondered how Brady would fare with an improved arsenal, Moss and his fellow wide receivers provided a scenario best described by Vilma.

"Frightening," Vilma said. "I mean, it's scary."

Brady completed 22 of 28 passes for 297 yards, with three touchdown passes and no interceptions. His passer efficiency rating, 146.6, was the third-best of his career. Sixteen of his completions, for 263 yards and two scores, went to wideouts acquired by the Patriots in the offseason via trade or free agency.

On most occasions, Brady, who did not suffer a sack, had ample time to survey the entire field and deliberately go through every one of his progressions.

"There are a lot of pretty good [receivers] out there to pick from," Brady said. "Any one of them, I feel like, could go out and have a big day."

In his New England debut, Moss' day was absolutely huge.

Inexplicably, the New York coaches opted to play more single coverage against Moss than the Patriots expected. In addition, a Jets defense that blitzed Brady on 28 of 36 "dropbacks" in the wild-card playoff matchup between the teams last season didn't come with anything approximating that pressure philosophy Sunday. The result was a secondary that too often, particularly for overmatched Barrett, was hung out to dry.

"We were just trying to use all our skill-position players offensively," said Pats coach Bill Belichick.

Just days after his team acquired Moss from Oakland for a fourth-round draft pick, Belichick detailed for ESPN.com his plans for using the five-time Pro Bowl receiver. One of the things Belichick emphasized most -- that Moss was expected to learn every wideout position in the playbook -- resonated Sunday afternoon.

Moss lined up wide left, wide right and in both slots, and he caught at least one pass from each of those four starting points.

And because Moss naturally draws the attention of any defense, opportunities will be created for the Patriots' other playmakers. On Sunday's first touchdown, for instance, Moss and Donte' Stallworth were flanked wide to the right while Wes Welker, the lone receiver to the left of the formation, drew single coverage.

Welker easily caught a short pass from Brady and scored from 11 yards.

"I just think that [defenders] are going to follow him wherever he goes," said Welker, acquired last spring in a trade with Miami.

With the locker room all but emptied out Sunday evening, Belichick was asked when he knew the gimpy Moss would be sufficiently recovered from his hamstring injury to play in the opener.

"Oh, early in camp, sure," Belichick said. "I mean, it wasn't like that injury was career-threatening or anything."

After Sunday's performance, the only careers that might be threatened are those of the cornerbacks who'll have to cover Moss this season.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.