The Patriots weren't going to let him return to Gillette Stadium on Sunday and make them look bad for trading him to the Minnesota Vikings. The Patriots played him physically, and they played him deep.
The Patriots essentially removed Moss from the game and then moved on from him with a 28-18 victory over the Vikings. Moss caught one pass for 8 yards and gave up on a play that should have been a touchdown, while the Patriots' new deep threat went 65 yards for a back-breaking score.
The game couldn't have developed any better for validating the controversial Oct. 6 Moss trade. The Patriots A) won without him, B) refused to let him do any damage and C) received team-wide contributions from the players expected to pick up the slack of his departure.
"I guess you can say it's a relief to get this one out of the way," Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington said. "But there's relief to get every one out of the way. There's always going to be a storyline in every game you play."
Moss' homecoming provided a substantially bigger plot than most weeks. If not for Brett Favre Ankle Watch, the return of a controversial figure to play the team that traded him away three weeks prior would have been the hottest topic.
The Patriots ostensibly put the trade behind them. Had they not kept Moss in check, had he helped the Vikings beat the Patriots with the type of explosive performance he's famous for, then second-guessing would have been rampant.
Bill Belichick made sure Moss wouldn't hurt them Sunday. They gave up the underneath to Harvin, as many Patriots opponents did to Wes Welker when Moss was on the field with him.
Harvin had six receptions for 104 yards. Peterson ran 25 times for 92 yards and a touchdown and added five catches for 50 yards.
Welker hasn't had that kind of space since Moss departed. In those three games, Welker has 14 catches for 102 yards.
That's why what happened Sunday renders the Moss trade more of a footnote than an ongoing debate. The Vikings threw at him three times. He had zero catches in the first half, one for 8 yards in the second half. He drew a 24-yard pass interference call on safety Brandon Meriweather, but Moss gave up on the play when the flag was thrown and he failed to catch the ball at the goal line for what would have been an easy touchdown.
Perhaps just as significant as muzzling Moss were the performances of several players who must come together to fill his void for the rest of the year.
Second-year receiver Brandon Tate showed off open-field speed with his first NFL offensive touchdown in the third quarter to give the Patriots a lead they wouldn't surrender.
Tate bailed out Tom Brady on a play that broke down. Brady pirouetted to avoid the pass rush, so Tate improvised. Tate bolted up the Vikings' sideline to separate from cornerback Asher Allen. Brady made the toss to a wide-open Tate at about the Vikings' 45-yard line. Tate ran diagonally across the field, pulling away from Allen and bidding safety Madieu Williams adieu.
"He's so dangerous in the open field," Brady said. "He's tough to tackle. It was great to see the back of his jersey, running. That was pretty sweet."
Running back Danny Woodhead had a rushing touchdown and led the Patriots in receptions with five for 45 yards. In the fourth quarter, he picked up a colossal first down on a third-and-12 reception with the Patriots up by just a field goal. Woodhead gained 16 yards to keep the chains moving, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis eventually scored to punctuate a monster second half. Green-Ellis ran for 108 yards and two touchdowns after the intermission.
Although Brady has conceded the Patriots' offense isn't as good without Moss, the team is getting along just fine, thank you.
"The coaches do a great job of using all the guys," said Deion Branch, the receiver who replaced Moss in roster terms. Branch was stretching his tight hamstring on the sideline when Tate sprinted into the end zone. "We're one solid group, a pretty good group. Nobody's selfish. We all want the football, but there's only one ball.
"It just goes to show you the depth that we have. Julian [Edelman] can do the same things. He's not on the field, but his time will come, too."
The day after the Patriots traded Moss, Belichick called a news conference and reminded everyone there's a reason they've won more games than any other team over the past decade. To paraphrase: "We know what we're doing." Belichick might as well have worn his three Super Bowl rings and theatrically wiped his brow when he said it.
"You know how I feel about Randy," Belichick said shortly after his team pushed to 6-1 and embraced Moss on the field. "I've talked about him many times. He's a Hall of Fame receiver and made a lot of great contributions here. I'm glad I had the opportunity to coach him. He was a special player to coach.
"But today he was the competition. That's the way it is in this league."