No masking Moss' joy

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The thing about a roller coaster is you typically walk away with a smile on your face, despite all the ups and downs you encounter.

Two weeks ago, Randy Moss was about as low as he could get. Chastised for being late to a team meeting in the days leading up to a matchup with the Carolina Panthers, Moss then fumbled away the only pass he caught in the game and dropped two other balls thrown his way.

While the Patriots came away with a 20-10 triumph, the lasting image from that day was a stone-faced Moss sitting on the Patriots' sideline, dejectedly staring ahead as quarterback Tom Brady shouted into his ear.

Moss came under heavy criticism for his effort, and while he had five catches and a touchdown against the Bills last week to help his roller coaster start a new ascent, few could have envisioned the scene that played out Sunday at Gillette Stadium, when Moss seemingly zipped to a new peak.

Moss caught four passes for 45 yards and three touchdowns as the Patriots crunched the Jaguars 35-7 to clinch the AFC East title and a first-round home playoff game next month.

After Moss' third score of the day, the stadium JumboTron showed an image of a fan wearing a Moss mask imitating the wide receiver's trademark touchdown celebration, where he motions like he's splitting the defense.

The camera quickly cut to Moss on the sideline, where he was watching and laughing, about as stark a contrast to the last home game as possible.

At the urging of his teammates, Moss playfully motioned back at the fan, wagging his tongue and continuing to laugh.

"It was very entertaining," Moss said with a smile after the game. "A lot of my teammates wanted me to mess with the guy. He put a little humor into it and I enjoyed it, man. That's the thing about having fun. When things go right, you get the fans in the game, you get the players in the game. So it was a stadium full of fun today."

It might have been what came next that really touched Moss. As the touchdown was reviewed to see if Moss had indeed crossed the goal line, fans started chanting his name, "Randy! Randy! Randy!"

What a difference two weeks make. Moss seemed genuinely touched by the outpouring of support.

"The good thing about it is, there's going to be some good times and bad times in football," Moss said. "To have the fans and stadium behind us, it felt good. Definitely, my last performance here wasn't really too hot. So, for everybody to have fun, I think that was a good thing -- everybody having fun."

Three touchdown receptions have a way of making things better in a hurry. Brady admitted as much when he joked after the game that "any time [Moss] scores three touchdowns, he gets pretty animated."

But Brady joined in the fun, joking that he was headed to eBay to try to purchase one of the Moss masks.

Asked why there was no mask for him, Wes Welker deadpanned, "Because you see these all the time," while pointing to his face. "You don't so much see the 'fro and things like that. It's pretty extraordinary. Plus, what [Moss] does out there is extraordinary."

Moss didn't catch any of his trademark deep balls Sunday. He stuck with shorter routes and showed how good he can be when he improvises.

Brady detailed each of Moss' scores, noting how he ran away from coverage while crossing the end zone on his first score, and managed to slip past a defender while crossing the field on a flag route on the final score.

But it was the second touchdown that really stood out. Moss wasn't supposed to break to the inside on his route, but he noticed a soft spot in the defense and moved into the open area for a 6-yard reception.

"You obviously see the kind of influence he has on the game when he's able to make those plays and I think he was really excited all week," Brady said. "He had a great game last week for us [and] one of his best games this week. We're going to keep needing it."

Moss has seen a lot of peaks and valleys during his career, but he seemed to suggest there's even more room to climb.

"I think that it's good because the division's back in New England," Moss said. "So two out of my three years [with the Patriots] we've helped win the division. Last year was very disappointing, but the good thing is we got that hat and T-shirt, so we're able to move on and see what the rest of the season holds for us."

Chris Forsberg is a roving reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.