The Patriots have been preparing for this. Slowly but surely, they have reworked the offense for life after Randy Moss. Now, they have to put it into action and quiet the doubters who believe the Moss trade diminished their Super Bowl and even playoff chances.
Moss' targets went from 10 in Week Two to one in Week Four. While he was second on the team in targets with 22 before his departure, he was fourth in receptions, trailing youngster Brandon Tate, who may take his spot as the new deep threat.
What does this trade mean for the Patriots in 2010 and beyond? For 2010, they will continue to use two-TE sets and pound the ball with RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Patriots led the league with 146 plays in which they had at least two tight ends on the field through four weeks. Rookie TE Aaron Hernandez has been tremendous, and WR Wes Welker hasn't lost a step. But a lot of their success has come due in part to Moss being doubled by opposing defenses.
There's no question the Patriots have weapons on offense, but someone will need to be a deep threat for Tom Brady to keep defenses honest. We hear that Patriots fans should expect see more of Tate. He is their only deep threat right now and has shown his speed on two kick-return TDs. Rookie WR Taylor Price has yet to be active but is a speedster and another future downfield candidate. Even seldom-used WR Matthew Slater has been targeted on one deep ball this season. There have also been talk of acquiring former Patriots WR Deion Branch from the Seahawks.
For the future, the Patriots now have two draft picks in each of the first four rounds of the 2011 NFL draft. Head coach Bill Belichick has made it a point to have this team ignore the dynasty from earlier in the decade by removing photos of the Super Bowl teams from Gillette Stadium in July. Already a young team, scouting has been successful for the Patriots as seen by the rookie and second-year starters, and they now have a lot of options with so many early-round picks.
On the field for now and the future, the team is prepared to move on without Moss. As for the players in the locker room? "It's a business. It is what it is," Patriots OLB Rob Ninkovich told PFW. "We need to deal with it and roll with it. We're moving on."