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Belichick's long-shot cornerbacks get tough Super Bowl draw

by | CBSSports.com
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Bill Belichick's bid for his fourth title might hinge on players like Sterling Moore (right). (Getty Images)  
Bill Belichick's bid for his fourth title might hinge on players like Sterling Moore (right). (Getty Images)  

INDIANAPOLIS -- In October, Sterling Moore was unemployed. Antwaun Molden struggled learning a new system after being released by Houston. Julian Edelman was a wide receiver.

Three months later, these three are among those charged with stopping the New York Giants' electric trio of wide receivers on the grandest football stage on the planet.

There's arguably never been a greater collection of castoffs and reformatted pieces manning the corners in the history of the Super Bowl. Certainly not in the pass-happy present of the current NFL model.

"We are against all odds," Molden said.

The oddsmakers might not even post a line on these longshots -- too risky.

Expecting them to step in and help keep Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks from adding fields worth of yards to their total of 43 receptions for 695 yards this postseason remains difficult to fathom. It will also help decide who lifts the Lombardi Trophy.

Most would wonder how Bill Belichick rolling two street free agents and a converted wideout onto the field Sunday could be viewed as a strategy for success.

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"When you got Coach Belichick as your coach," Edelman said, "you don't really ask those questions."

Indeed, Belichick's reputation in this area stands close to impeccable. Building unheralded and underappreciated castoffs along with reformatted pieces into champions are as closely associated with Belichick as the hooded sweatshirt.

"If you look at our track record and history, it's true that I tell the team that I don't care how you got here, it's what you do when you get here," said Belichick, who currently employs 17 players who were undrafted free agents. "It doesn't matter if you were drafted in the second round, the fifth round, or not drafted at all. Ten years in the league, one year in the league, we are going to play the best players. Whoever that is, is decided by you."

Even by Belichick's standards, these three test the limits.

When the Patriots employ unique defensive packages, as they do more than half the time, starting corner Devin McCourty moves to safety with Edelman or Molden jumping in the slot. Moore takes over on the edge opposite starter Kyle Arrington. The rotation created one of the most famous swipes in Patriots history.

Moore's saving knockdown on the near touchdown pass to Baltimore's Lee Evans last week sent New England to Indy. Along with a third-down pass defensed on the next play, it added to his team-leading total of four passes defensed this postseason. Not bad for a guy released four times by two different teams this year.

Moore, an undrafted rookie out of SMU, actually watched last year's Super Bowl from the stands at Cowboys Stadium. Since, he was released by the Raiders in the preseason and added to the practice squad. Three weeks later, he was dumped from their practice squad. After spending more than a week without an employer, Belichick came calling. Twice he was released by the Patriots only to be picked back up soon after, the final time coming Dec. 10.

"Definitely a lot of paperwork," he said. "I had a feeling I was going to be back, but you never know what is going to happen."

Those words also ring true with Molden. He spent three years in Houston, only to see his playing time decrease. He eventually fell out of favor and was waived before the fourth preseason game.

"It was kind of nervous at first because I have a daughter and I have a wife," said Molden, who admitted struggling to pick up the system early while contributing two interceptions. "I never experienced [being waived] before. It was my first, hopefully it's my last."

Edelman doesn't have to worry about dealing with that experience any time in his near future. When you play 54 plays -- 27 on offense and 27 on defense -- as Edelman did in the AFC Championship Game, finding a new employer isn't an issue.

In midseason, Edelman found out Belichick planned on having him follow in the steps of Troy Brown and switching between receiver and defensive back. For Edelman, he accepted with zero hesitation. He'll also be quick to note the transition has been far from seamless; the former college quarterback had to figure out how to play an unfamiliar position on the fly.

"It's foreign, it's new," he said. "It's not like you are going to Capuchino High and covering a little kid out of the science class. You are going against world-class athletes that have experience and know how to make you look dumb if you don't know what you are doing."

They've attempted to do so quite often. The Ravens picked on Edelman consistently in the AFC Championship Game and Giants WR Mario Manningham said they plan to expose him Sunday when given the opportunity.

"He plays wide receiver," Manningham said. "He's not a real DB. Did he get drafted as a defensive back? That's what I am saying. I hope to see him out there."

Cruz, Nicks and Manningham will most definitely see Molden, Moore and Edelman. It's not the matchup most talent analysts would place in favor of the Patriots. Yet, as Belichick proves time and again, no matter how circuitous the route to game day or how seemingly large the talent gap, his team, his collection of castoff players, repeatedly find a way.

These three must find one Sunday against the Giants.

If they do, by most analytical metrics, it would measure as a surprise. Molden, Moore and Edelman are all too familiar with the topic.

"You are never surprised around here," Edelman said.

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