FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A tumultuous week for Randy Moss ended with questions about his effort, as he turned in arguably his worst performance in three years with the New England Patriots in a win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Moss finished with one catch for 16 yards, one dropped pass, one lost fumble, and a fourth-quarter false start penalty, and the home crowd also booed him.
Yet perhaps more damning than all of that was how two Panthers, cornerback Chris Gamble and safety Chris Harris, felt he wasn't going all-out on every play. That seemed especially true on a Tom Brady first-quarter interception in which Moss appeared to run a lazy route that contributed to the miscue.
"We knew he was going to shut it down," Gamble told the Boston Globe after the game. "That's what we wanted him to do. That's what we did ... He'd just give up a lot. Slow down, he's not going deep, not trying to run a route. You can tell, his body language."
Gamble continued: "I know everyone who plays against him, they can sense that. Once you get into him in the beginning of the game, he shuts it down a little bit."
This was one of the big questions of the week, how the sensitive Moss would respond to adversity. He was one of four players sent home for being late to an 8 a.m. meeting on Wednesday -- along with defensive end Derrick Burgess and linebackers Adalius Thomas and Gary Guyton -- when snowy and icy conditions made for a longer-than-anticipated commute.
According to running back Kevin Faulk, who is one of Moss' closest friends on the team, the receiver was deeply affected by the decision.
"He was really hurt about the situation, getting sent home, but at the same time he knew that's what Bill's wishes were and he had to respect Bill, and that's what he did," Faulk told ESPNBoston.com.
Faulk felt Moss turned the page upon his return to practice Thursday and didn't let it linger. This is where Faulk feels that Moss, who started Sunday and was on the field for every play but four, might be misunderstood.
"He loves football too much; this is what he loves to do and nobody understands that," he said.
Moss skipped out of the locker room without addressing reporters Sunday, deciding to let his play do the talking for him. It didn't always look good on the field. Or on the sidelines for that matter, such as when Brady came over to offer encouragement and Moss kept staring ahead.
The book seems to be out on Moss. Get to him early and he's easily rattled.
"The key for playing Moss is that you have to be physical with him," Harris told ESPNBoston.com. "Our goal was to get our hands on him every single time we could and not just let him run up on our safeties. I think we did a great job of that. If you can get to him early, it shows. He gets frustrated and might not complete 'go' routes sometimes and things of that nature."
Harris explained to the Globe: "I don't want to say he quits, but he kind of doesn't run the routes the way they're supposed to be run. If you get a jam on him, he'll just ease up. He had the one catch, and he fumbled. ... We stayed on top of him. We were not gonna let him catch a deep pass. That's his game. If he can't get it going, he gets out of sync."
Gamble described Moss as a sneaky player, because at times it might look like he's not giving a top effort, attempting to lull a cornerback into thinking he isn't part of the play before suddenly shifting into top gear. Yet Gamble said there was little deception with Moss on Sunday. Instead, he was telegraphing the Patriots' offensive intentions.
"Some of his body language let me know it was a run, and that's how I got a feel on when to help out on the run," he told ESPNBoston.com. "I think if he came off the ball and had a little Wes Welker in him, you wouldn't know what was coming. That's what I think Moss needs to do -- be like Wes and go hard every play. I'm going to respect him, and every other [defensive back] is going to respect him if he comes off the ball hard."
The contrast was especially noticeable Sunday -- Welker was the spark that ignited the Patriots, while Moss couldn't get out of first gear.
"They're two different breeds," Gamble said to the Globe. "Welker's just a tough, hard-nosed guy. He got hit and he got back up. I can't see Moss getting hit, catching slants, getting banged around, and getting back up.
"I respect Wes' game. He's going over the middle all the time, getting hit. That's the majority of his catches, linebackers ready to hit him. And he gets hit, gets right back up."
On the Patriots' side, Brady could sense Moss was battling his emotions. Moss hit the 100-yard receiving mark in five of his first nine games this season, but has been held well shy of it in the last four contests.
"He was frustrated in himself and the situation and it's just something you have to fight through," Brady told ESPNBoston.com. "He keeps fighting through it and you have those days where it's not all great, but you keep lining up and you keep going up. You've just got to keep fighting."
Based on his track record, some have wondered if Moss will do just that. While signs pointed to Moss heading in a different direction at times Sunday, Faulk passionately defended him, saying he has no doubt that Moss is giving his all.
"Randy, as a person, is doing what he has to do to help this team win," he told ESPNBoston.com. "He knows what he has to do as a football player for this football team and he is doing it. Nobody in this organization is complaining about what he's doing."
ESPNBoston.com Patriots reporter Mike Reiss contributed to this report.