The New England Patriots, Super Bowl contenders as always, were considering trading Randy Moss?
Trade him they did, to Minnesota, a deal that supposedly was going to lift the Vikings back into contenders. Turns out the only contenders after that deal were the Patriots, who have remade their offense on the fly to such an extent that they have scored more points in 13 games (415) than second-ranked San Diego has in 14 games (388).
"Everything we do, we do what we feel is in the best interest of the football team," Patriots coach/general manager/popcorn vender Bill Belichick said when asked about the trade by Packer Report during Wednesday's conference call. "So, whether it was that decision or any other one, we do what we feel like is best. A lot of things went into that. It's a much longer conversation than this one, but in the end, we did what we felt like was best for the football team."
In the four games with Moss, the Patriots averaged 32.8 points. They've averaged 31.5 points per game without him – hardly a dramatic drop-off.
But that only tells part of the story. In the Patriots' last five games – including against the powerhouse defenses of Pittsburgh, the New York Jets and Chicago – they've scored 39.2 points per game. And if he hasn't done so already, quarterback Tom Brady should clear out a spot for the MVP trophy. During that five-game span, Brady has thrown 15 touchdown passes and no interceptions while topping 300 yards four times.
That's the juggernaut that Green Bay's top-ranked scoring defense will be facing on Sunday night.
"It's the biggest challenge we've had (this season), defensive coordinator Dom Capers told Packer Report on Friday. "This quarterback, he's a challenge for everybody he goes against. They know what they're doing."
What's interesting is that in a league in which a true No. 1 receiver is worth his weight in gold, the Patriots have gone the opposite direction in dumping Moss. Diminutive Wes Welker is a brilliant role player with 80 catches, but as his 9.8 yards per reception would suggest, he's not exactly a game-breaker. Deion Branch, a 31-year-old retread, has turned back the clock with five touchdowns in nine games for the Patriots after never scoring more than four in four-plus seasons with Seattle.
"I think they're both great," Brady told reporters in Foxboro this week. "They're extremely consistent, dependable, tough, very skilled. They can run a lot of routes. They have a lot of variation to what they do. We're always trying to put them in different positions. They both played a huge game last week, and they're both threats out there. If they're open, they're going to get the ball. They both know that."
For balance, Brady and Belichick are relying heavily on two rookie tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who have combined for 72 catches and 11 touchdowns. Running back Danny Woodhead, a former Division II star who couldn't find his niche with the Jets' punchless offense, has been a terror out of the backfield with a ridiculous 11.2 yards per reception on 30 catches.
Put that versatile group together with Brady's uncanny accuracy, and you get an offense that rivals Brady's 50-touchdown blitzkrieg of 2007 in its precision if not its explosiveness.
"All three of those guys (Welker, Branch, Woodhead) are smaller guys but they're very quick and they're very good running with the ball after the catch," said Capers, who served as a special assistant under Belichick in 2008 before joining the Packers. "Brady might be the best in the league of timing and putting the ball on their shoulder while they're on the run, so they don't have to slow down very much. They're very efficient that way. He's a very good play-action passer. Peyton Manning over the years has been excellent with the play pass and Tom Brady's right there. If they can get their run game going and mix the play-action in and with all those little, quick guys, they'll spread you out a lot. These guys will run a lot of empty sets, where it becomes one-on-one matchups."
Throw in the contributions of a long-named no-name, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who has rushed for 786 yards (4.3 average) and 11 touchdowns, and the Patriots offer the type of versatility that wasn't there when Moss was running go routes. Not to mention the type of versatility that will leave an esteemed defensive coordinator reaching for an extra glass of Coke.
"The more people spread things around, the more they can do, the more multiple they are, the harder they are to defend," Capers said. "If you become just one-dimensional, then all of a sudden you can focus in on that dimension. This is a team, they have it right where they want it. They can run the ball when they want to run it and they can throw it when they want to throw it. I think they always do a good job of keeping you off-balance. When you think they're going to run, they're throwing, and vice-versa."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.