Randy Moss put himself first

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Two of the most talented football players of all time helped dismantle the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

Four days ago, both of them were entering the final year of their contracts without a new agreement from the New England Patriots.

But that's where the similarities between Tom Brady and Randy Moss abruptly end.

Brady has since been locked up for four more years and $72 million. Moss is still without a deal.

And, after the mercurial receiver delivered a rambling 16-minute State of Randy interview following the Patriots' 38-24 victory, Moss might want to get used to his uncertain future.

While his teammates were celebrating their season-opening win over the Bengals in the locker room, Moss held court in the postgame news conference, claiming there were "a lot of people who don't want to see me do good."

Moss insisted he didn't want to start any trouble and that he took his job very seriously, but that he didn't feel he was appreciated by the Patriots. He also said he felt this would be his last year with the team.

"This is the last year of my contract," Moss said. "Nothing has been discussed. There's not been anything said. Not a letter. Nothing. I'm not saying that I want to stay here, but I love playing here. If the future of my job lets me go to another team, then that's what it's going to be."

Comcast Sports Net reporter Tom Curran countered with a point-blank question: Do you understand how bad this looks after a 14-point win to stand up and talk about your contract?

"I can honestly say I don't really talk much," Moss answered. "And I don't want to take away from the win. But I think that before this season gets started, I don't want it to be Week 10, Week 11, Week 12, and we're sitting here talking about a contract."

But here we are in Week 1 talking about a contract for a player who caught five passes for 59 yards Sunday. It's undeniable that Moss can be a game changer. Moss correctly pointed out that he often draws two defenders, which provides opportunities for other receivers, yet safety Chris Crocker didn't point to Moss when he discussed how New England broke down the Bengals' secondary.

"The guys that killed us were [Wes] Welker and [Kevin] Faulk," said Crocker. "Every time it was third-and-short, Brady went to the guys he's always counted on."

Brady has counted on Moss for the big play in big situations. Can he still count on his receiver in the current climate? Moss insists that he can. "Being unhappy doesn't have anything to do with me toning my game down," he said. "I'm here. I understand my role. My role is to take the ball deep and take the top off the defense."

The rumblings that Moss was unhappy grew louder following an Aug. 31 charity event in which the receiver pointedly kept his earphones on while Patriots owner Robert Kraft addressed the crowd. Moss refused to discuss that incident, calling it "more in house," but Kraft was understandably peeved at the receiver's behavior.

Kraft is a players' owner. Relationships matter to him. You have to wonder how much further damage Moss inflicted Sunday by pushing his agenda.

There were (and are) question marks about the 2010 Patriots coming into this game. There were critical injuries to Ty Warren and Leigh Bodden on the defensive side of the ball. Brady was operating behind an offensive line compromised by injury and ill will. He was throwing the ball to a gifted, yet self-absorbed receiver who declared he felt "unwanted" by his team because he didn't have a new contract, even before Brady, the icon of the franchise, had agreed to an extension of his own.

That did not stop the quarterback from expressing devotion to Moss while he deftly sidestepped levying any criticism at Kraft for not paying his most explosive target. It was Brady at his best; convincingly supportive on all fronts, leading both his owner and his teammate to believe, "All right. Tom has my back."

"I would love to have him, of course I would," Brady said last week of Moss. "It's not my decision. I think this is something that is out of every player's control. I love Randy and I'd love to play with him for a long time."

It's called diplomacy, and it must have been a course that Moss skipped during his lengthy NFL education. Give the man points for being honest, but then subtract almost as many for making it all about No. 81 on a day when Welker completed an unfathomable comeback from a career-threatening knee injury to catch two touchdown passes.

Welker sat patiently while Moss talked about himself, his contract and his feelings. But, after 14 minutes or so, even Welker had heard enough. He stood up and walked out.

Moss said he loves his teammates, and they say they love him back (particularly when he's streaking down the sideline and pulling balls out of his ear). Yet Moss was not voted a team captain this season by his peers, as he was in 2009.

There are whispers about missed practices last season and special rules for the special receiver. New England veterans learned long ago to dutifully toe the party line, albeit with their teeth clenched.

Honestly, does anyone believe Brady blissfully breezed through the preseason without a hint of discord or frustration about his own contract status? He's the most celebrated athlete in the team's -- and perhaps the city's -- history. The Patriots wouldn't have won a single Super Bowl without him. He made the New England Patriots relevant, a distinction that eluded this franchise for most of its checkered history, and he had to wait until the final weekend of the preseason to be rewarded.

Yet Brady understands how the game is played. So he waited, kept his doubts to himself, and as a result has the security he so richly deserves.

Randy Moss could have had that kind of security. He could have gone down as the greatest receiver who ever lived. He always had the ability, and, much of the time, possessed the temerity to distinguish himself as an elite talent. As Welker pointed out Sunday after he returned to the interview room, "There's nobody that can do what Randy does. It's pretty much unheard of."

Welker was talking about Moss the football player, but he could have easily been talking about Moss the orator. You can be sure he will hear from coach Bill Belichick Monday morning regarding his "I'm not disrespecting the organization" soliloquy.

Belichick's rein on limiting the comments of his players is legendary. When a Patriot says the wrong thing, he often discovers a little note on his locker the next morning that commands, "See me. BB."

The coach's advice is usually succinct: Shut up and play. We can only wonder how Randy Moss will respond to that.

When told he seemed upset, Moss denied the characterization. "By the word that I used, being 'unhappy,' it's not that I'm mad or trying to be disgruntled," he said. "I'm hurt. You give me a word. I don't want anything negative to come out of this like usually does."

Too late.

Jackie MacMullan, who spent nearly 20 years as a beat writer and columnist in Boston, is a columnist for ESPNBoston.com.