Ravens prepping for Patriots in post Moss

OWINGS MILLS – Minutes after sleepily listening to All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis discuss the New England Patriots, Fabian Washington smiled and laughed at a question. No, the Baltimore Ravens' cornerback doesn't mind that the Patriots shipped dangerous, disgruntled wide receiver Randy Moss out of town via a trade to the Minnesota Vikings during their bye week.

"I was going to be comfortable regardless," Washington said. "But I'm not going to lose any sleep that I don't have to guard him." When the Ravens (4-1) square off with the Patriots (3-1) Sunday at Gillette Stadium, they'll face an offense in transition no longer headlined by Moss and his ability to run behind cornerbacks to haul in touchdown passes from star quarterback Tom Brady.

The Ravens represent the first opponent the Patriots have faced since unloading Moss for a variety of chemistry issues, including his gripes about his contract and reported confrontations with quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien and giving the silent treatment to coach Bill Belichick. Instead of the imposing 6-foot-4, 210-pounder lining up across from the Ravens' defensive backs, they'll be matching up with different types of receivers.

Other than speedy wide receiver Brandon Tate, who doubles as an elusive kickoff returner with two scores already this season, the Patriots have no true deep threat on their offense.

"I don't think they're going to take as many shots anymore because with a guy like Randy Moss, that's what he does," Washington said. "You throw it up and he catches the ball. That's what he does. They still have a receiver in Tate, that's a nice vertical threat. So, I do expect them to throw deep balls, but just not as much." Brady doesn't lack for viable targets to choose from as he goes through his reads.

There's always a primary read in elusive possession receiver Wes Welker, who has recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered last season to catch a team-high 26 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns. Versatile rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez has proven he can get downfield, catching 18 passes for 240 yard.

And Tate has contributed 11 catches for 135 yards. Despite undergoing such a dramatic change in the middle of the season, the Patriots haven't lost their most important element: Brady.

The winningest quarterback in NFL history since 1966 with a .763 percentage, Brady is on pace to finish this season with 3,644 passing yards and 36 touchdowns. Brady has completed 69.7 percent of his throws for 911 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions for a 109.0 quarterback rating. "One big thing you can see is his accuracy," Washington said. "He's going to get the ball where it needs to be. Even if it's tight coverage, he knows how to put it where only the receiver can get it and he can find the open guy. "You say Moss isn't there, but I think he won three Super Bowls without Moss. So, he's going to find the open guy. You just have to cover the receivers and hope he makes a mistake."

Brady has won his past 22 consecutive regular-season starts at home, but the Ravens trounced the Patriots, 33-14, in the AFC wild-card game in January.

Because of Brady's presence, the factor of losing Moss is mitigated somewhat.

"Any other team, it would probably hurt them a lot," Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "But with one of the greats in the game under center, I don't think they're going to miss a beat. We've already eliminated that factor. We're still got to play, and they're still going to show up to play. ..

"We ain't seen it without Randy Moss. Tom Brady is still under center. When you've got a gunslinger like that, you got your work cut out for you. You're going to have to have one of your best ones, or he's going to have one of those days."

The Patriots also reacquired wide receiver Deion Branch this week in a trade from the Seattle Seahawks. The former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player is expected to renew his connection with Brady after emerging as his favorite target six years ago.

"It's going to be interesting to see how they plug Deion in there," Harbaugh said. "We can speculate all we want, but we won't really know how he fits into their offense until we get out there and start playing."

Moss' subtraction could create additional opportunities for players like Tate and Branch or potentially an increased role for Hernandez, who's a cross between an H-back and a tight end at 6-foot-1, 245 pounds.

"They've got some speed, vertical guys they haven't used a lot because they've had Randy Moss," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "So, we think they're going to use those guys more now." Hernandez's first NFL reception was a 45-yard strike from Brady against the Cincinnati Bengals. He also caught a 46-yard pass against the New York Jets.

"He's a vertical threat, crossing route threat, he can run all the underneath routes they run with Wes Welker, that's how athletic he is," Harbaugh said. "He's kind of a new dimension for them and a guy we're figuring out exactly where he fits. We would assume after the bye week there will be some new wrinkles for him." After Moss' departure, the Patriots will undoubtedly operate in a different manner without one of the most dynamic receivers of the past decade.

Harbaugh has a ton of respect for Belichick, and he figures he wouldn't have made this move to unload Moss without having a wise strategy for how he would run his offense going forward. "I think with Randy you kind of knew, and pretty much people were starting to play them in a similar way," Harbaugh said. "What does that mean? How are we going to defend them? Who's the deep threat. It's going to be Brandon Tate, for sure. He can run. He's a threat

"Obviously they feel very good about their offensive weapons or they wouldn't have done it. No team ever does something to make themselves weaker. They feel this is going to make them stronger short-term and long-term. That's why they've done it, and we'll be the first team to find out what their plan is."


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