EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Here was Randy Moss, sprinting down the north sideline at Giants Stadium, running like Al Davis was trying to catch him, past single coverage and into clear space.
There was Tom Brady, sitting behind a perfect wall of play-action protection, not the slightest concern a New York Jet might tackle him, all day to wait and wait for Moss to break free.
When Brady finally let it fly, Moss was cutting across the field, 50 yards deep now, blazing through three overmatched, lead-footed Jets. By the time the pass fell softly into Moss' oversized mitts, he only needed to step slightly up-field for six back-breaking, statement-making points.
"(Moss) just ran away from the defense," marveled Brady. "He ran about as far as I can throw it. I didn't have much more."
If you thought playing the New England Patriots wasn't any fun the last six years, you should have seen them in this 38-14 show of force against what was supposed to be their chief AFC East rival.
Brady has a new favorite receiving toy, Moss has a new lease on his football life and the ever-churning New England machine has a new Vince Lombardi trophy in its sights.
The numbers told the story here at the Meadowlands, but the lasting impression wasn't so much from the final score.
It was nine receptions for 183 yards and one touchdown (Moss) and 22 for 28 passing for 297 yards and three touchdowns (Brady). It was 431 total yards and five different players finding the end zone.
But mostly it was No. 81, Moss, the off-season acquisition that has given Brady the deep threat he lacked last year. Some called it a gamble, coach Bill Belichick rolling the dice one too many times, risking his team on the shoulders of a surly, slowing star.
But so often what Belichick touches turns to gold, and freed from the misery of the Oakland Raiders, Moss didn't just run like the weight of the world was off his shoulders and he didn't just act like a good soldier, he had Brady calling him "a great leader," of all things.
"Randy's a competitor," Brady said. "Randy's a football player. He loves to play football. He was a great player before he got to the Patriots and he is obviously a great player now.
"I think he does want to fit in. Being a Patriot and being a part of this team, it's about being smart, being physical and putting the team first. That's why it's fun to play here."
Moss sure looked happy. There was no drama on the sideline, no waving for his quarterback's attention on the field. He may lack some of his trademark speed, but he makes up for it with experience, smarts and a new outlook.
"I'm just happy and very blessed to be in this position," he said. "I just wanted to showcase my talents."
He combined with Brady to put them on display. There were short routes, slants, jump balls and, of course, the bomb for the 51-yard touchdown. There was great physical skill and even greater mental understanding.
"He's a very smart player," Brady said. "He understands defenses; he understands what a quarterback is looking for."
Mostly there was an instant connection between pitcher and catcher – "Tommy had faith in me, believed in me," Moss said – that belie the fact that Moss missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury.
"(Brady) was like a kid with new toys, but he couldn't open them," Moss said of this new offense that included fellow wideout Wes Welker and a running game that churned out 134 yards but had been hampered by injury in the preseason. "He didn't really have all his toys to play with and now he has all his toys to play with. The sky's the limit."
Moss bristled at the idea he's rejuvenating his career here ("I don't need to revitalize. Everybody knows who I am."), but deep down he must know it. There was a reason, after all, he admitted to pregame nervousness.
His uneven career with Minnesota led to a pouting two-year stint with the Raiders, which, considering the dysfunction of that organization, can't be blamed completely on the player.
The one constant with Moss is an underestimated desire to win. If he has confidence in those around him, he'll bring it with the best of them. But he isn't going to waste energy for a loser. Just because he lacks that phony rah-rah act, just because he tells it like it is, for better or worse, doesn't mean he lacks heart.
By joining a franchise that has won three Super Bowls in the past six seasons, one famed for taking other team's troubles and turning them into team players, he no longer has an excuse. But surrounded by competence, he won't need one.
"This is probably the best well-coached team I've been on, and at the same time the best players and talent team I've been on," he said. "The whole circle, man, is the best. I'm just enjoying the ride and contribute to the team what I can."
"That's the way Randy plays," Belichick snapped postgame, with his trademark confidence that mocked those who doubted him.
You had to give Belichick his moment. He saw something a lot of others didn't. He believed what others wouldn't consider. And if he's correct, if this is indeed how Randy Moss plays, then Belichick may not just be laughing now, but laughing last.
- Randy Moss