CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Brady shakes off Moss loss, saves boss with vintage win

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots' decision-maker, knew what he was doing when he traded away Randy Moss, his only deep speed and only real scary player down the field.

He wanted to use it as another way to show that Bill Belichick, the Patriots coach, is a master at what happens on the field.

You can rip his move to trade Moss to the Minnesota Vikings -- which I have -- but there is no denying that Belichick can find a way to make things work with the pieces he has to play with.

It helps that he has a certain model-marrying, Justin Bieber-hair wearing quarterback who could make an offense sing with Bieber in the slot. Tom Brady is that good, and he showed it again against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

The Patriots rallied from 10 down in the fourth quarter to pull out a 23-20 victory in overtime on a Stephen Gostkowski 35-yard field goal. That field goal capped a 45-yard drive that put the new-look Patriots offense on display.

In the first game since trading Moss, the Patriots took a while to get going, but Brady got it cooking at the right time and rallied New England to its fourth victory against just one loss, showing why they are indeed a factor in the AFC.

"Man, that was a good win for our football team," Belichick said. "I'm really proud of those kids."

Translation: You made me look good. Belichick had two weeks to prepare for this game with New England coming off a bye, so the extra time might have helped to cover up the loss of Moss. That has me thinking: As impressive as this victory was, it might be like a blemish on a wart, covering up the ugliness until the blemish wears off and you see the real problems.

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Scan the list of receivers Brady completed passes to Sunday and tell me how excited you are about them. There was Deion Branch, who just came back to the team this week in trade with Seattle after four years away. There's Wes Welker, playing less than a year removed from a torn-up knee. There's Danny Woodhead, claimed on waivers when the New York Jets didn't want him.

Should I go on?

You had Alge Crumpler, a tight end known more as an extra tackle for the way he blocks, two rookie tight ends (Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski), a Welker mini-me in Julian Edelman and the supposed speed replacement for Moss in Brandon Tate.

And Brady lit it up in the second half?

"Tom did his thing," Branch said.

Brady went into the fourth quarter 11 of 20 for 136 yards and an interception. He did not have any completions longer than 10 yards to an outside receiver.

That's when Tom did his thing. Brady completed 16 of 24 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown to Branch over the fourth quarter and overtime.

"It was us executing, making plays and coming together," Welker said. "Once we started making plays, it started steam-rolling and everybody jumped in on the fun."

It's just a different type of fun than we've seen with this team for a while. With Moss gone, the offense is much more methodical, much more schematically driven.

CBSSports.com Grades
Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens
B
Some of the playcalling was suspect. Ray Rice had 77 yards in the first four quarters, but didn't have any long runs -- averaging only 3.3 yards a carry. The Ravens needed him to play better. Defensively, the pass rush was spotty. Hard to blame this group, though, because of how much they were on the field.
New England Patriots
New England Patriots
A
The Pats earned themselves a huge win. They did it the old fashioned way -- clutch defense and an offense that was able to collect first downs. Although he looked confused early, Deion Branch played better as the game wore on. Their run defense also played much better. An all around memorable win.
By William Bendetson
RapidReports Correspondent

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They can't just throw it up and tell Moss to go get it.

Belichick insisted that Moss didn't get doubled much this season, but that's not true. Teams, like the Ravens did Sunday, can play the Patriots differently. They can sit on all the short stuff, make Brady dink-and-dunk down the field, which he did. Can you count on that every week?

The Patriots miss Moss like a dieting person misses chocolate. They can make do, but it sure is a lot more enjoyable when he's around.

"We're still working it out," Crumpler said of the new-look offense. "We're trying to distance ourselves from teams of the past. We have to run our offense with the guys we have. If we get to the offense we saw in the fourth quarter and overtime, we'll be a tough offense to stop."

The Patriots used reverses to receivers, another to Hernandez, some quick screens and a variety of other ways to move the ball. In Brady, they have a quarterback who is patient and good enough to make it all work.

Without Moss, it's almost like a trip back to the Super Bowl-winning teams, where Brady threw to a lot of guys who were just OK, including Branch, who won a Super Bowl MVP in February 2005 before he was traded to Seattle for a first-round pick.

Branch caught nine passes against Baltimore, including the touchdown. The nine catches matched what Moss had in his four games with the team. Branch said the chemistry with Brady was there right away from the first practice last week. He said it was like old times.

"It doesn't feel like we've missed a beat," Branch said. "That shows the type of guy he is."

"We've known each other for a long time so I think that chemistry is there," Brady said. "And it will be there for a long time."

When you have won three Super Bowls, winning a regular-season game no matter how big the comeback pales in comparison. But you could tell by Brady's postgame demeanor that this was one he enjoyed.

That's because we've all wondered if there was enough on offense to win without Moss, especially against a good defense like Baltimore's. Brady showed that as long as he's the guy doing the throwing, things would be OK.

He was asked if these kinds of comebacks -- his 30th game-winning comeback -- ever get old.

"No," he said.

I still wonder for the long term how this post-Moss offense will work. But with Belichick scheming things and Brady running it, you never can count out the Patriots.

Trading Moss was an arrogant thing for a personnel man who seems to ooze it. Of course, he always knows he has his coach to bail him out -- a guy with the same name, the same smug ways and the same ticket to Canton.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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