Patriots Offense Isn't The Same

Just two weeks later, the "what if" game is being played in New England. What if: Randy Moss never left? That's the question for the Patriots who were the top scoring team in the league and are now slowly slipping back to the pack after two close games. Moss and the Vikings are coming to town, giving us all plenty of time to ask What If...

The flashy story of Sunday evening's Halloween meeting between the Vikings and Patriots at Gillette Stadium is Randy Moss. The future Hall of Famer and a record-setting presence during his three-plus seasons in New England makes his return less than a month after being traded to the Vikings.

That storyline will be prime TV and newspaper fodder all week.

But much bigger than that will be the game itself, which pits a Minnesota team many had as a Super Bowl contender trying to crawl out of an early season hole visiting a Patriots team that many thought was in a rebuilding mode but would seem to be very much in the mix in the AFC at this point.

The Patriots ride a four-game winning streak into the game, having moved into a tie with the Jets atop the AFC East at 5-1 following last Sunday's 23-20 win over the Chargers in San Diego.

Interestingly, in the first two games of the post-Moss era, and heading into a meeting with its former All-Pro No. 1 receiver, New England's offense has struggled a bit. It's been the team's very young, developing defense that's had to make plays and give Tom Brady and Co. extra chances in order to pull out two field-goal wins over the Ravens and Chargers.

In fact, Brady's passing attack had just 11 net yards in the first half against San Diego and aside from one 17-play drive to a touchdown to open the second half really never got things going.

"It feels good to win and see the defense playing the way they did and get those turnovers," Brady said of his defense's four-turnover effort against San Diego.

But he knows that his side of the ball, heading into a meeting with a star-studded offense that includes not only Moss but also Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson, must be better. He also knows that six games into the season there are a lot of teams in the parity-driven NFL that would like to be where the still developing Patriots are -- atop the division and winning far more games than they're losing.

"We're still working at it," Brady concluded. "I wouldn't say we're in playoff form yet. But we're 5-1 and have played some pretty tough teams."

Another tough one, fielding a pretty familiar old friend in Moss, is on the horizon. Somewhat strangely, though, it's the young Patriots that look like Super Bowl contenders at this point and the veteran Vikings that are not winning quite as often as people expected.

UNDER THE RADAR: Defensive lineman Dane Fletcher is a rookie free agent out of Montana State, but that hasn't stopped him from making a name for himself in New England. Fletcher was a surprise when he made the 53-man roster out of camp, but even more surprising has been his addition to some of Bill Belichick's sub packages on defense in recent weeks that included the rookie forcing a fumble in Sunday's win in San Diego.

BY THE NUMBERS: Randy Moss, who returns to Gillette Stadium on Halloween evening, had 50 touchdown receptions in his 52 games in New England over three-plus seasons. That's the same number the entire Patriots' receiving corps, including Wes Welker and Deion Branch, had in their careers heading into last weekend.

--S Sergio Brown was promoted to the active roster from the practice squad in advance of the trip to San Diego. Brown is a 6-2, 210-pound rookie free agent out of Notre Dame who's been with New England since April and opened the season on the practice squad.
--RB Thomas Clayton was released Oct. 23. Clayton had been inactive for two games as a member of the 53-man roster.
--RB Fred Taylor (toe) missed his third straight game. He was listed as out on the Friday injury report prior to the meeting with the Chargers.
--S Jarrad Page (calf) was listed as out prior to the trip to San Diego, leading a New England list of inactives against the Chargers that also included healthy scratches DL Ron Brace, OL Mark LeVoir, DL Kyle Love, OL Rich Ohrnberger, WR Taylor Price, CB Terrence Wheatley.
--DE Brandon Deaderick, a seventh-round pick out of Alabama, earned the start for the second straight week with the opening nod against the Chargers. He has taken full advantage of the action, notching his second sack in as many weeks in Sunday's win at San Diego.
--TE Rob Gronkowski scored New England's opening touchdown in San Diego on a 1-yard reception. The rookie second-round pick has three touchdowns on just nine catches for the season.

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