Nothing better illustrates the difference between the winning style of the New England Patriots and the dysfunctional style of the Raiders than the turnaroundby Randy Moss.
Moss is perhaps the most talent wide receiver ever to play in the NFL, able to outrun the fastest defensive backs or outjump them on high passes.
But he is also a player who often has not had his mind in the game, has short-armed passes and has let relatively minor injuries sideline him. While with the Minnesota Vikings, he admitted that he decided when he would play his best — and often decided it wouldn’t be in the next game.
When the Raiders traded for him in 2005, though he had the type of skills owner Al Davis admired, it was a serious mistake. This is not hindsight. In the first column I wrote on my Web site, Feb. 25, 2005, I wrote that bringing Moss into a volatile mix that already included too many selfish players simply wouldn’t work.
And it didn’t. Moss missed time with injuries and didn’t play particularly well when he was in the game. He seldom talked to the local media, but on his radio show said he wanted out of Oakland and that he didn’t like the coach or the offensive coordinator. His criticism of his coaches was accurate, but his comments undermined the team.
Moss was not going to return to the Raiders, which Davis seems to have forgotten in his zeal to blame coach Lane Kiffin for Moss’ departure. Moss was scheduled to be paid $9.75 million in 2007. The Raiders wouldn’t have paid that, so it was either trade Moss or let him go as a free agent. Only the Green Bay Packers and Patriots showed any interest. When the Packers bowed out, the Patriots got him for a fourth-round pick.
In New England, Moss has once again emerged as a premier receiver, setting a record of 23 touchdown receptions, breaking Jerry Rice’s record of 22, which was set in 12 games in the strike-disrupted 1987 season.
Moss came in to a totally different environment with the Patriots. Though the team has an excellent personnel man in Scott Pioli, it is built around the coach, Bill Belichick. The Raiders, of course, are built around Davis, who believes that coaches are not important; he’s had four in the last five years and apparently would like to make it five in six years.
Belichick is a strategic master, as he showed in the Patriots’ first Super Bowl win, over the St. Louis Rams. Instead of trying to pressure Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, Belichick dropped as many as seven defenders back in pass coverage, completely confusing Warner.
He is like Bill Walsh with his strategic vision and, more important, in building the team concept. Even superstars such as Joe Montana and Rice were not more important than the 49ers as a team, and even Tom Brady isn’t above the Patriots.
That’s why they’re about to make history with a Super Bowl win that will put them at 19-0 for the season. That’s why Moss was able to subordinate his personality and play within the team framework.
And that’s why the Patriots will continue their success after this season. The Raiders? As long as Al Davis is in charge, there will be nothing but more misery.