The much-hyped Randy Moss-Darrelle Revis matchup ultimately won’t decide Sunday’s Patriots-Jets showdown at the new Meadowlands, but it could end up deciding Moss’s future in New England.
The buildup to Sunday’s game has included plenty of words going back-and-forth between the two superstars, including Revis’s succinct, cutting description of the Patriots receiver as a “slouch.”
Moss responded by simply saying the slouch will be there to see him on Sunday, but we already knew he’d physically be there. What we don’t know is which Randy Moss will show up.
Will we see the Randy Moss who puts every ounce of his superior size, speed and skill into every single play whenever a fire is lit under him? Or will we see the Randy Moss who disappears in a puff of smoke as soon as an ounce of adversity materializes?
That question is precisely what makes this matchup so compelling, not necessarily what type of impact it will have on the outcome of the game.
It’s already feeling like a must-win game for the Jets, who are reeling from an offensively inept Week 1 loss against Baltimore on Monday Night Football. But this one will ultimately be decided by the performance of the defenses.
The Patriots defense performed well in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals, led by safety Patrick Chung’s 16 tackles. This time, they face an offense with much less firepower that looked utterly incompetent on Monday night.
The Jets obviously boast an elite NFL defense- an outstanding combination of talent, depth, and intensity capable of winning games on its own, and Revis is the anchor.
But Bill Belichick could still out-coach Rex Ryan in a defensive struggle and scratch together 17 points for a win. And Tom Brady could also throw for another three touchdowns, cruising the Patriots along to a 2-0 start. And all this could happen without Moss being targeted even once.
So if this were to happen, what does that say about Moss’s ability as a player? His character? It could speak more to Revis’s status as the league’s top corner, but a non-existent or lackluster performance from Moss would nonetheless be disheartening.
And if reports that the Jets limited Revis in practice Thursday with a tight hamstring are any indication, it’s likely Moss will face him at less-than-100 percent, making a weak performance even more disappointing.
Moss is clearly very proud of what he’s accomplished to this point in his NFL career and very motivated to take a step toward earning himself a new contract by owning Revis on Sunday.
As undeniable as Revis’s cover skills are, the Krafts and Moss himself do not and should not lack confidence in Moss’s ability to put up a fantasy-friendly stat line. We’re talking about a Hall-of-Fame receiver, regardless of character issues, against a hobbled, out-sized Jets corner.
If Moss doesn’t perform Sunday, the Krafts need to seriously look at his future with the team. If Moss gets shut down and the Patriots lose, it will be easy to label Moss a scapegoat. If he’s shut down and the Patriots still win, it will be easy to say the Patriots can continue to do so without him.
Either way, Moss has plenty of pressure to perform on Sunday. His deservedness of a contract extension from the Patriots will be seriously brought into question should he be a non-factor in the game, regardless of the outcome.
This is an incredibly crucial game for both teams, with each team looking to make statements- the Patriots that last week wasn’t a fluke, and the Jets that last week was an aberration. In the middle of all this, the stage is set for Moss to perform like the Hall-of-Fame lock that he is.
However, if Moss fails to elevate his play above the defensive struggle, sink Revis Island and deliver the type of game everyone knows he’s capable of, then perhaps its best for the Pats to let another team pay him to disappear.
Follow Matt Dolloff on Twitter for live updates during Sunday’s game.