The Randy Moss Conundrum: His Old Back or Back to His Old Ways?

T.J. DoneganCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2009

MIAMI - DECEMBER 06:  Wide receivers Sam Aiken #88 and Randy Moss #81 of the New England Patriots sit on the sidelines while taking on the Miami Dolphins at Land Shark Stadium on December 6, 2009 in Miami, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Patriots 22-21.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

Anybody who believes in the old football axiom that winning cures everything clearly didn't see the performance of the New England Patriots on Sunday.

It's rare to see a team so dysfunctional on offense in the first half turn around and still win the game despite not getting a phenomenal game from some of its star players.

Most obvious among those players was Randy Moss who, if you believe the media firestorm that has erupted today and last night, obliterated any good will he had in New England by turning in a performance that has been described in words that are anything but complimentary.

Others in the media even went so far as to trot out the old guard of ex-receivers to talk about Randy's history of dogging it in games.

Now, let me just put this right out there: I don't know what's going on with Randy Moss. Neither does anybody else. He looks slow. He looks frustrated.

There's maybe a half dozen guys who know what's up with Randy, whether it's a lack of effort, a lack of preparation, some outside distraction or, infinitely more likely, an injury.

But let me make this clear: Jerry Rice and Chris Carter and Drew Bennett and others who fed the media frenzy today? They're probably not in that group.

Let's just look at the facts: plain and simple, Randy Moss has not been playing well. That's the extent of what we are absolutely positive on. Randy Moss has not been productive.

And that's the rub, really. The problem with the New England Patriots is not one of philosophy and it's not a matter of Randy Moss needing to "try harder" like his buddy Welker.

Moss needs to simply catch more passes thrown his way and make plays so New England can win on Sunday.

The "effort" thing has dogged Moss for a long time, straight into New England now. The thing is, Randy Moss never looks like he's trying hard. Yet there he is, second all-time in receiving touchdowns (144 career), looking like he's coasting downfield.

People rarely appreciate just how productive Moss has been until you look closely at the numbers. This isn't some washed-up receiver hanging on for a few more years.ย 

He's 32 years old. Compare that to T.O., who is just behind him in touchdowns and yet is four years older. That Moss has already eclipsed the career of every receiver that came before him except for one is surely not lost on some of his detractors.

He looked this way in 2007, he looked this way in 2002, he looks that way now. He never looks like he's trying hard. The only difference is now he's not catching the ball when it is thrown at him.

Wes Welker? He's a mile-a-minute burner who doesn't possess the natural abilities of Randy Moss, he has to try hard. But even he, like Moss, doesn't seem to be pushing himself.

Excepting his outburst during a great second half drive in which he caught five passes and pumped up the crowd and his team, Welker's usually not the type to wear his emotion on his sleeve.

What I'm getting at is that gauging effort based on how a guy "looks" is ridiculous.

Watching the game on Sunday the effort thing didn't cross my mind. What crossed my mind is that Moss looks hurt and he looks frustrated. He looks like something is biting at him every time he moves.

This is what I don't understand: Moss is being killed for a "lack of effort" on several plays because that's "what he's always done when he's not getting the ball."

Except on every one of those plays, Moss was getting the ball. Yes, he doesn't always sprint through routes where he's not designed to get the ball, whether that's by design or simply his way. But when has Moss been known to not give full effort when the ball's coming his way? Why is that suddenly the book on Moss? Because Chris Gamble says so?

What I saw was a guy who comes out of breaks slow likely because of a back injury that is well-documented that was so bad earlier in the year he was widely lauded for playing through it by his teammates and the coaching staff. Guys don't get that kind of praise unless it was bad and everyone knew it. It's football; everyone plays hurt, especially at this time of year.

He looks like a guy that when he jumps to catch a ball probably has a sharp pain somewhere that makes it awfully distracting when trying to catch footballs in traffic.

He looks hurt. I don't think, in his three years in New England, I've seen more than a half dozen balls bounce off his hands like the one he lost on Sunday. So now he just won't catch the ball because he doesn't care?

Furthermore, Moss has been on the injury report nearly every single week this season with either a back or a shoulder. On weeks he wasn't listed with an injury he was given Wednesday off for "non-injury" related reason.

Anyone buying that one from Belichick, the injury report wizard? He couldn't possibly be giving Moss a free pass on the first contact day of the week because Randy's got a nagging injury that he doesn't think he technically has to list?

As someone who has injured his back before I can tell you that it is absolutely no cakewalk. I did it at 18 playing basketball and there were days I'd tweak it the wrong way and couldn't walk. It's not an injury that heals overnight.

Now I don't know any specifics, here. Nobody in the New England locker room is feeding me info on Moss being injured. Nobody's giving me photos of clandestine cortisone shots.

But that's the key: nobody else is getting any inside info either. It's just rampantย  speculation. Moss left without talking to reporters after the game and he's not going to cry injury at this point in the year.

All we know is what we saw on Sunday and what we're hearing from Belichick and Brady who, instead of giving the "it it what it is" routine, are going out of their way to call Moss one of the best players on the team.

If Randy truly is dogging it then he should be benched. If he's not going to be productive and he's not going to at least try to work his way out of it, Belichick should bench him.

The idea purported by SI's Peter King that Belichick learned from Bill Parcells that you have to baby some guys and be hard on others is bull-hockey. So now Bill Parcells babied Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn? The guys he publicly called out in the media for being divas and not being tough enough?

I'm not buying it. I'll give you that Parcells gave a wider birth to star guys like Lawrence Taylor, but if Taylor wasn't producing and wasn't trying, Parcells would've benched LT, too.

So why is Bill then going out of his way to support a guy that is being creamed in the media and, ostensibly, seems to care little?

He's not going to come out and say "Randy is injured, he's got a bad back," because that's just going to make teams go after the injury. If it doesn't require treatment and it won't hold him back in practice from participation then Belichick doesn't have to list him.

Per a USA Today article on the subject of the injury report:

"Brady, when discussing the Patriots' injury reports, says Belichick doesn't "give away a lot of information and talk about injuries and everything that everyone probably wants to know, but โ€ฆ that's for the players. He protects us because he wants us to have the best advantage every single week."

I'm not going to sit here and just give Moss a blanket defense. The guy's not producing and in the NFL, especially when you're a star player getting star money, that's the real cardinal sin.

The real truth here is that, even if Moss isn't "trying hard" anymore, it doesn't matter. It doesn't. What matters is production. They need him to be producing on the field.

This is a team that is built around their ability to generate the big play and Moss is the only guy who can consistently create that play in tough coverage. When he can't do that, they're going to lose.

But the dime store psychology sessions need to end. Nobody but Randy, the training staff, and the coaches know what is truly wrong with Moss.

If it's an effort thing then he needs to fix that but I'm not buying. So he let a ball bounce off his hands after running a route because he's not trying hard? Because he didn't want to be bothered to run any further? He let a pass go by him and get intercepted because he thought he wasn't getting the ball? Please. If Belichick was so concerned about not offending Moss why would he send him home on Wednesday for being less than ten minutes late? None of these theories hold water.

As I said, I don't know anything more than they do, but I'm willing to admit that. What my eyes see is a guy who is slow out of breaks and has lost a great deal of explosiveness because the back he injured earlier in the season is still bothering him.

Could it be lack of effort? Of course, but I don't see it. Moss just looks like a guy who isn't hurt enough to sit out, isn't going to complain about being injured on a team filled with them, is too hurt to produce like normal, and is too important in a tight play-off race to simply bench until healthy.

That's the real Randy Moss Conundrum, and that's what he has to overcome.