In 2008, the New York Giants lost Plaxico Burress, their top receiver after 11 games, due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound. After a convincing win over the Redskins the following week, the consensus was that the Giants would be fine without Burress. They had a strong team overall, and Domenik Hixon could fill Burress' role as a deep threat.
However, the Giants struggled at the end of the season, finishing the year 12-4 after a 10-1 start with Burress. All the offensive numbers dropped and even after a first-round bye in the playoffs, the Giants fell to the Eagles 23-11.
In New England, the Patriots could face a similar fate.
After shipping out Randy Moss, the Patriots remained calm, cool and collected. They won their first three games in the post-Moss era and Tom Brady promised to "throw it to whoever's open." But after a crushing defeat to the Browns, its worth examining if everything's been as rosy in Foxboro as it seems.
The Pats have played four games with Moss and four games without, and the opponents have been roughly equivalent in each, so there's arguably a fair split in available stats.
On the surface, the 3-1 record both before and after indicates that Moss didn't make much of a difference, but the numbers tell a different story.
While Bill Belichick believes that "stats are for losers," stats are useful for attempting to predict overall success.
Since Moss left, the Patriots have been on a major downslide in offensive stats. Tom Brady had a 69.7 percent completion percentage in the first four games and a 58.3 percent mark in his last four. Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Tate are all down in both receptions and yards.
And these drops can't be attributed to changes in game plans. Deion Branch has hardly made an impact after his first game against the Ravens, and the Patriots aren't gaining as much as they were on the ground when Moss was around.
But the yards aren't the real concern. The scary stats are that the Patriots' third-down conversion rate has dropped from 51 percent with Moss to 33.3 percent without. Most importantly, the Patriots' red zone efficiency has fallen from 66.7 percent to 56 percent.
So what does this mean for the Patriots?
First of all, the stats point to the fact that Moss opened up the entire offense. Brady is struggling to throw it "to whoever's open,' because without Moss, no one is as open. Next, the third-down deficiency means that the Patriots are struggling to control the ball like they used to — a good example of this would be their game against the Chargers. And since the Patriots aren't converting red zone touchdowns like they used to, they're letting opponents keep the game close, which will likely come back to burn them.
In the Giants' playoff loss to the Eagles, they converted three of 11 third downs and couldn't convert their two red zone opportunities into touchdowns. The Giants' passing offense clearly wasn't as strong as the Pats' passing game, but the fact remains that they dropped off post-Burress and the Patriots are dropping off post-Moss.
Come January, the past — although not their own — could come back to haunt the Patriots.
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