The result: Moss had one reception for eight yards, and he was a complete non-factor during the Patriots' 28-18 victory against the Vikings at Gillette Stadium.
Moss is at his best when the game is more of a ballet, so the Patriots, who knew him all too well, treated Sunday like an underground street fight. Cornerback Kyle Arrington found out Wednesday he'd be the main man in charge of beating up Moss, and Arrington, who made just the fifth start of his career, knew he did a sound job covering his good friend.
"I got a feeling that I was making him become frustrated," Arrington said. "But I definitely wouldn’t be satisfied until the final whistle blew and the clock was triple-zero because you never know with Randy. He's Randy Moss. It only takes one play."
Moss was held to one or fewer catches for the 18th time in 194 career games, and there were times Sunday when Moss looked like a defeated player. He got pounded at the line and didn’t always have it in him to keep fighting through the coverages. There was even a third-down play in the red zone when Moss stopped a route short because Arrington led him into two linebackers over the middle of the field.
"I think I was as physical with him as any receiver in my career," Arrington said. "It was Randy Moss. It was either put up or shut up."
And the Patriots were full of far too much pride to let Moss come back to New England and beat them. At one point in the first half, Moss even acknowledged Arrington's style of play, somewhat of a tip of the cap to the Patriots' aggressiveness.
It was probably also a surprise to Moss, who made a long statement after the game but didn’t take questions, that the Patriots changed their defensive philosophy toward him. Every week this season, head coach Bill Belichick had kept his cornerbacks on one specific side of the field — Devin McCourty on the left, and either Arrington or Darius Butler on the right — but Sunday, Arrington spent a good chunk of the day following Moss to both sides of the field.
It didn’t happen on every play, but it occurred enough to notice New England's desire to squash Moss' performance. And it's highly unlikely Moss told his Minnesota teammates the Patriots would be willing to make such an adjustment.
As Sunday's game wore on, the Patriots' defensive backs got an increasing feeling they were winning that battle. Yet, even when Moss had slowed up or looked beaten, the Patriots knew they had to remain at their best.
"You've got to understand Moss' game," said safety Brandon Meriweather, who spent a lot of time shading over the top of Moss' side of the field. "Moss is never full tilt until the ball is in there, so what may look lazy, or look like he's giving up to you, is really faster than it looks. That’s the thing with Moss."
Arrington echoed a similar sentiment.
"Every time the ball was snapped, I tried to be the aggressor," Arrington said. "He will lull you to sleep, so that was the biggest thing I didn’t want to have happen to me and end up on SportsCenter for the wrong reasons."
Instead, the guy on the wrong side of those highlights was Moss. He got smothered by the Patriots' defense, lustily booed by the Gillette Stadium crowd and boarded a Minnesota-bound plane with a loss and one of the worst single-game outputs of his career.
"Any time you can limit one of the best deep-threat receivers ever to one catch for eight yards," Meriweather said, "you had to do a pretty good job on him."
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