Patriots Played Chicken And They Lost

The New England Patriots gambled by not extending Randy Moss' contract he'd have incentive to be more productive this season. Perhaps that's true, but it will be for someone else now. New England's gamble didn't pay off, but will it for Minnesota who has yet to sign No. 84 to a new deal?

For the fourth time in his NFL tenure, Randy Moss began his stretch with a new team on Monday night by averaging over 20 yards per reception and by scoring a touchdown. And while the loss to the New York Jets may have demonstrated that Moss isn't an instant cure-all for the ills that plague the Minnesota offense, the game proved that, at age 33, the 13th-year veteran remains a force.

Moss was targeted 10 times by quarterback Brett Favre, according to official NFL game statistics, and caught four passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. That raised Moss' numbers in opening games with a new team -- with Minnesota originally in 1998, Oakland in 2005, 2007 with New England, and Monday night again with the Vikings -- to 22 catches for 489 yards and five touchdowns.

Not bad. A 22.2-yard average and a touchdown every 4.4 receptions. Not just any touchdown catches, either, mind you. Touchdown grabs averaging 48.0 yards, none of them for less than 31 yards, with three of 48 yards or longer.

"It's what he can do for you," said Vikings receiver Percy Harvin, who as predicted by The Sports Xchange in a Monday column was the primary beneficiary of having Moss as part of his revamped posse. "He's (unique) that way."

And the odds are that Moss, at an age when players are checking out the comforts of a Laz-E-Boy recliner, will remain unique for at least a couple more years. Which is why the Vikings' brass, even in its "all-in" mode for 2010, would be wise to secure Moss beyond this season.

Yeah, there are other important long-term deals to be negotiated. A slew of key Vikings veterans are in the final seasons of their respective contracts, and most of those need to be addressed for the team to remain competitive in 2011. But to keep Moss happy and playing well -- and, almost as important, to avoid another summer passion play with quarterback Brett Favre and avoid the kind of uncertainty that hounded the franchise the past two offseasons -- it might be better to pay the wide receiver now and avoid the hassle later.

Other than to agree that Moss will not be tagged with the franchise label next spring, when he will otherwise be eligible for unrestricted free agency, the Vikings have not made a substantial offer to extend Moss' contract, which is worth $6.4 million in '10. Agent Joel Segal confirmed there have been no negotiations, noting, "I think that will come later."

Minnesota management might not want to wait too much longer.

New England football bosses, among the most sage in the game, consciously (although they will never concede it) declined to extend Moss' deal this offseason. The Pats' rationale: A pissed-off Moss was a better, more productive Moss, a player who might emulate his 23-touchdown performance of 2007, just to play for the money. But the strategy backfired, didn't it? An angry Moss turned out to be, well, an angry Moss, a distraction more than an attraction.

No player, Moss included, should be able to hold a franchise hostage. But with less than a week of work, and probably knowing only about 50 percent of the playbook -- notice he wasn't on the field at one point for late, first-half drive -- Moss was still a signature player.

Outside of the absence of the long-anticipated matchup with gimpy-legged New York cornerback Darrelle Revis, Moss provided great theater. And the more he becomes familiar with Brad Childress' playbook and with Favre -- and it shouldn't take all that long because, the horror stories aside, Moss is a bright football guy -- the better Moss will get.

And the closer the Vikings will come to being the team everyone thought they were.

Following the game, in a rare moment of candor, Moss acknowledged that it has been "a long week."

Yeah, but Monday night was just a snippet of Moss' brilliance. A few more weeks exposure to the Minnesota offense, and maybe a new contract, and we'll get the full picture. And the weeks will become even longer for NFL cornerbacks.

Len Pasquarelli writes for The Sports Xchange. This report courtesy TSX, all rights reserved.

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