By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) – The image of Randy Moss burning past two defenders, looking over his shoulder and effortlessly hauling in a perfectly thrown deep ball from Tom Brady is one that Patriots fans will never forget. It was a thing of beauty — football perfection – and it forever left its mark on Patriots history.

History, though, is all it is, and despite Moss’ Monday declaration of his return to the NFL, he should not and almost certainly will not be a part of the Patriots’ plans for 2012.

When the news first broke Monday via Moss’ own Ustream channel, ProFootballTalk immediately listed the Patriots as “the first team to watch,” adding that the website learned that New England “still likes him.” Perhaps the Patriots do like him as a person, but as a football player? That’s hard to believe.

Moss turned 35 on Monday, which isn’t ancient in wide receiver years but isn’t exactly a positive development for a man who seemingly forced himself out of football and spent a year away from the NFL. Since 1996, just two players over the age of 30 have led the league in receiving yards, and they were a 30-year-old Marvin Harrison in 2002 and a 31-year-old Muhsin Muhammad in 2004. The idea of Moss ever again being dominant or even close to dominant is, at this point, a pie-in-the-sky belief.

There is, however, some precedent to an all-time great wide receiver missing a season at age 34 and excelling upon his return to the NFL, and it comes from Jerry Rice. In 1997, Rice played in just two games due to knee injuries. Upon his return in ’98, he caught 82 passes for 1,157 yards and nine touchdowns. He went on to average 996 yards per year over the next four seasons, catching 28 touchdowns along the way.

So if Rice can do it, why can’t Moss?

For starters, Rice was the greatest receiver of all time. Moss, despite his greatness, is not.

Rice also never had as horrific a season as Moss did in 2010, when he was dumped by two teams and spent most of the season standing on the Tennessee sideline. Moss finished the year with nine receiving yards in eight games as a Titan, nine receiving yards in four games as a Patriot and a whopping 13 receiving yards in four games as a Viking. He did manage to score five touchdowns in his first seven games that year, but he turned into nothing more than a decoy as the season progressed.

Despite the drastic drop in production, Moss wanted back in 2011. No teams were willing to bite — at least none with offers enticing enough for Moss.

On Monday, Moss worked the spin control, saying his absence last season was his choice.

“I had some things I had to adjust in my life,” Moss said on his Ustream channel.

While Moss didn’t really expand on what those things were, they likely included veteran-minimum, one-year offers and a rapidly declining skill-set. The latter is something that doesn’t improve with a year away from football.

Still, the good memories remain. Moss embraced Robert Kraft, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick after returning to Gillette Stadium with the Vikings. He seemed to regret his unceremonious departure from the team that gave his career new life at 30 years old.

“I miss every last helmet in that locker room,” Moss said after that October 2010 game. “Coach Belichick gave me a chance to be a part of something special, and I take that to heart.”

He visited Kraft after Myra Kraft passed away over the summer, going so far as to sign his card “Randy Moss Kraft.” Kevin Faulk also said this weekend on NESN that Moss was waiting at Faulk’s house to greet the running back after the Super Bowl last week.

All that is well and good, but none of it means anything on the football field, and none of it erases what took place in 2010. After his team won in Week 1, Moss went on a me-me-me diatribe about how he was likely in his final season in New England because of his unsettled contract situation. That same game marked the return of Wes Welker, who shocked everyone by recovering from torn knee ligaments in time to score two touchdowns that day. Welker made that comeback despite making much less than his worth, providing a sharp contrast between the Patriot Way and the Moss Way.

Three weeks later, Moss dropped a sure touchdown in Miami. He then fought with offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien on the way to the locker room at halftime. It was his last act in New England.

Some may clamor for one last chance for Moss to end his Patriots tenure on the right note and, more importantly, on a winning note. It’s a nice thought and it would make for a nice story, but there’s just no reason to believe it could ever happen.

Faithful Moss supporters would say he’s about more than the numbers, that he “takes the top off the defense” and draws multiple defenders on every play. Brady’s 5,235 yards and the Patriots’ 15-4 record in 2011 suggests the team just might be better off without him.

Moss may not be realistic enough to understand that, but Belichick and the Patriots certainly are. Moss is going to have a hard time generating offers from any team, let alone the team that came within one play of winning the Super Bowl.

Moss was available to the Patriots and 31 other teams last year, and the Patriots and 31 other teams all said no thanks. Nobody should expect anything different this time around.

Comments (16)
  1. Michael Daly says:

    The only nits I have to pick with this piece –

    1 – Moss’ decline in production in 2010 came with a Vikings team that was in utter chaos (he kept pointing out what the Patriots would do defensively and they never listened to him when they played in Foxboro; he also had a quarterback in Favre who was done) and a Titans team also in chaos with Vince Young’s meltdown and Kerry Collins’ injuries. Certainly Moss didn’t improve those teams, but coming from a team where he’d caught three touchdowns in four games and still scared defensive coordinators, Moss’ lack of production had more to do with outside factors than with him.

    2 – While Brady threw for over 5,000 yards and the Patriots have kept winning, the fact remains they were harmed by not having a deep threat like Moss – in the Superbowl they had so few pass catchers that it was all they could do to score 17 points. Not having Moss hurt them in their last two playoff losses.

    Moss won’t be what he was in 2007. I still think he can produce in the Patriots offense. The fact is they need someone like him.

    1. George Bush says:

      Moss is more problems than he is worth. The Patriots were worse when he was on the team and now he is just older and slower. The smart teams all cut him, the Patriots should have done it earlier.

  2. Jeremy Beyor says:

    He may be getting older but with Moss on the team we would have won the super bowl this year. No way do we only score 17 points if he is on the field. Even if he didn’t score a single touchdown he would have demanded double coverage and opened up the field for the other receivers and runnig game. He would have also kept Brady/offense on the field more which in turn keeps the Giants offense on the sidelines…

  3. Jongrif851 says:

    At the right price take him back — imagine Gronk / Hernandez /Welker and Moss all catchin’ TB’s passes — I CAN!!!!!!

  4. Ken says:

    When the Patriots traded Moss in 2010, he hadn’t been unproductive. He was shipped out for his stupid remarks after the Cincinnati game. He got nowhere in Minnesota and Tennessee because those two teams, with blue-ribbon running backs, treated the passing game, and Moss, as an afterthought. He might do all right.

  5. Eddy Han says:

    As you saw in the SB, the team with more lethal threat was the team with the better receiving core. Having only Randy as the deep threat wont be enough, if we had two WR that were vertical threats like say Moss and Wayne then, Gronk and Hernandes and then Wes….OMG who would you cover?

    You need multiple threats at the same position so you can create chances, with one threat they can shut you out….as teams figured out late in the year in 07 and 11.
    That said we still need to be able to shore up the D.

    1. Ken says:

      If you have Moss and Wayne as your first two WR’s and have both tight ends on the field, you can’t have Welker on the field unless you’re running an empty backfield, which has its own perils when you play a team like the Giants, who have a great pass-rushing defensive line. To make Welker effectively your #5 receiver would be madness. Also, the Pats’ tight ends are deep threats.

      I think the Pats pick up one or the other, Moss or Wayne.

  6. AMG says:

    Randy Moss..if used properly..would be an amazing addition to the Patriots offensive side..If he had stayed with the Pats in 2010 he would have had a great year..It’s amazing how these sportswriters only tell the part of the story that supports their ignorant articles..such as this one…

  7. Bill Bellycheck says:

    Moss is no longer that good when he tries, and he only tries about 1/3 of the time. He gave up some incerceptions with his lack of effort on some plays.

    He is a slug, a liability.

  8. Jarred says:

    This sports commentary was written by someone who doesn’t understand football at all.

  9. verna depauw says:

    randy moss is like the player at the end of the bench you only play him on 3rd downs &for deep passes like a fake punt on 4th down he can still run

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