Scoring a touchdown in the NFL is no easy feat.
Yet, for the 140th time in his prolific career, Randy Mossmade it look effortless Sunday.
Likewise, completing a 2-point conversion is a challenging endeavor, but again, Moss succeeded with relative ease.
On both occasions – late in the third quarter of yesterday's win over Miami – Moss faced single-coverage from Dolphins rookie cornerback Vontae Davis, but for entirely different reasons.
First, the touchdown. Trailing 17-16, New England took over on offense for the first time in the second half with 4:51 remaining in the third quarter, following an opening drive by Miami that consumed more than 10 minutes and resulted in the go-ahead touchdown. The Dolphins had all the momentum, it seemed, at that point.
The ensuing kickoff was a touchback, giving the Pats the ball at their own 20-yard line. A five-yard run by Laurence Maroneyand a four-yard catch by Wes Welkerset New England up with a 3rd-and-1 from their 29. In the huddle, quarterback Tom Bradyrelayed the play call he received from the sideline, which called for Moss and Welker, lined up on the right and left sides of the formation respectively, to run crossing patterns.
Now, in order to appreciate fully how this play unfolded, one must understand that, in the Patriots offense, there are no primary receivers (the exception being on screen plays, where there is but one intended receiver). On virtually every other pass play, it's read-and-react.
The QB reads how the defense reacts to its patterns and then scans his receivers in a progression – high to low (meaning deep downfield or short) or vice versa, or inside to outside or vice versa, depending on how the routes on any particular play are designed.
On the touchdown, Welker, running to his right toward the New England sideline, had the deeper route than Moss, whose shallow pattern put him underneath Welker and closer to the line of scrimmage. Dolphins safety Tyrone Culverchose to provide double-coverage help on Welker because he was closer to Culver downfield.
That left Moss one-on-one against Davis, who earlier had made some great defensive efforts and even picked off a Brady pass intended for Moss on the third play of the game. Davis later injured a quad muscle defending a pass to Moss in the end zone and left the game temporarily.
That may have helped Moss gain a step on Davis as the two raced across the middle of the field toward the Dolphins sideline. Moss took the short pass from Brady and turned upfield, further separating from Davis by applying a textbook stiff-arm along the way. The 71-yard play was the fifth-longest scoring catch and sixth-longest overall reception of Moss' NFL career.
"Being able to stiff-arm that guy and then get his legs up … he's a savvy player and knows when [defenders] are around," Welker remarked in the Pats' post-game locker room. "And he was able to turn that into a big play for us when we needed an answer."
"It's always nice for a quarterback when you see the back of 81 sprinting down the field," Brady said immediately following the game. "There're not too many guys that can catch him. It was a great play, and we needed it. They really controlled the clock on us in the second half."
But Moss and Brady weren't done. Up five at that point, head coach Bill Belichickhad to decide whether to kick and go up six or gamble on the 2-point try to up the lead to seven.
"That was a real tough decision … I think that was one of the toughest ones," Belichick later admitted. "It's late in the third quarter, you kind of feel like that's not going to be the last score in this game. There are a lot of different multiples there. I'll just say that had it been later in the game it would have been an obvious decision. At that point, it was a tough one that could have gone either way.
"We just felt like we were moving the ball pretty well, offensively. We felt like we had a good play, that was probably the most important thing was we had a good play down there and whatever they did we felt like we were going to be pretty good with it. Those were the things that went into that decision. But I could have easily kicked it there and come in here and said I feel like I did the right thing, too. I think that one was right on the edge. There's still a lot of time left. That was a tough decision."
In retrospect, Moss only made it look easy.
Belichick said Monday, after watching the film, that Miami was in an all-out blitz on the 2-point conversion attempt, meaning all of New England's receivers would be single-covered. But the cover men, including Davis, were also playing inside technique due to the blitz assignments, and Moss was responsible for running an outside route – exactly the kind of defense you'd want on that kind of play call.
Two different coverages, same result. Moss, this time lined up left of formation, got a step on Davis and Brady delivered the ball directly to Moss' waiting hands.
"It is asking a lot, but you can't double them all," Dolphins head coach Tony Sparanotold reporters moments after the game, when asked about his rookie corner facing a future Hall of Famer.
"You know, we didn't get enough pass rush in some of the situations out there, it has a lot to do with that. You got to get pressure on Tom, and we weren't able to do that today and you are asking guys to hold up for a long period of time. Now that being said, we certainly in some situations didn't play our man-to-man coverage very well. We tried to mix it up really well against them, with man, with zone, with combination coverage, and 'Tom being Tom,' did a great job of finding guys."
"I just have to step back and compete with him," Davis added. "That's Randy Moss, he's going to make his plays and I just tried to limit him the best I could."
Afterward, Moss was demure when asked to recollect the play.
"Just a play, just … we executed. It was the play we called and everybody did what they had to do and 71 yards later it was a touchdown. So you really have to commend all 11 guys, because I've said once before, if you got 11 guys working together, anything is possible. That's what we tried to do here, is just execute on offense and everybody did everything right on that play and you saw the results."
"The good thing about it," Moss concluded, "is we run decoy routes, we get other people open, and when good things happen, we all get a pat on the back."
Connolly the center of attention
Quite an afternoon against the Dolphins for reserve offensive lineman Dan Connolly. The fourth-year player from Southeast Missouri State fielded a squib kickoff, lined up at fullback on Maroney's touchdown run, and filled in at center for the remainder of the game when starter Dan Koppeninjured his right knee late in the second quarter.
In his post-game press conference and again on Monday, Belichick offered praise for the 6-4, 313-pound Connolly's play, but had little in the way of an update on Koppen, other than to say that, "He's a pretty quick healer. He's a pretty tough guy."
As for Connolly, who looked a lot like Russ Hochsteinin his various roles, Belichick said, "He missed those first couple games early in the year, but he's really been a solid guy that's taken a big jump this year from the off-season, training camp, preseason games. He's probably one of our most improved players.
"It seems like every time he's gotten a chance to play, he does a good job, he shows up. I think he's getting close to battling for some playing time. He's really taken advantage of his opportunities when he's had an opportunity to play. We'll see how things are with [Koppen] and all that, but we have a lot of confidence in [Connolly]."
The week ahead
Monday afternoon, the Patriots had their standard team meeting and review of the Miami game film, plus treatment for those who needed it. Tuesday is their usual day off before they return to the practice field Wednesday. New England goes back on the road this weekend when they visit the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts on Sunday Night Football.