INDIANAPOLIS — Like most of the Patriots' roster, Sterling Moore was considered someone else's trash.
The Raiders, Moore's favorite team growing up, had him in camp. He played well in the preseason as an undrafted free agent. After losing Nnamdi Asomugha, the Raiders had a big need for corners. Everything seemed to be lined up perfectly.
Moore didn't make the team in August and was placed on the Raiders' practice squad, but he soon was cut altogether. He was on the street with no job. The Patriots set up a workout for Moore on the West Coast prior to Week Four and came away impressed — but with limitations to their enthusiasm, too.
"Athletic guy, good ball skills. Had some versatility. Had some size, had some quickness," said Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio, who attended the workout and gave the green light to sign him. "So, you know, there were some things there to like. We brought him in, and with any player you bring in, you hope it works out. But a lot of it is how he prepares and how he improves."
Moore joined the roster and primarily was on the "look team," giving the first-team offense the best possible defensive looks as it prepared for the next week's game. But he kept showing up in practice, and with the Patriots' secondary struggling, the defensive coaches and Bill Belichick thought it was time for a promotion.
Moore had played cornerback, some nickel, in Oakland during the preseason. But the Patriots had to throw him in at safety, and Moore mostly held his own.
"In practice, everyone is evaluated on an everyday basis," Caserio said. "He moved to safety there for a three-week period and did a pretty solid job. Credit to him and credit to the coaches for getting him ready."
How often do the Patriots, maybe the NFL's best vultures, come in and swoop up useful players such as Moore? Every season, it seems. And how often do players like Moore make big plays in big situations? Nearly every time the franchise has made a Super Bowl under Belichick.
But where did Moore come from before Oakland? A California kid, Moore took the junior-college route, attending Laney College in Oakland, and despite playing well, he received very little Division I attention. The schools that came calling were by no means BCS powers: Cal Poly-SLO, Hofstra, Sacramento State, Massachusetts and Eastern Michigan. Moore settled on UMass and was all set to head for Amherst before SMU jumped into the recruiting fray at the 11th hour.
"It was crazy because I was committed up until two weeks before Signing Day, when SMU came calling," Moore said. "If I didn't get my offer from SMU on my visit, I was supposed to leave for UMass the following Tuesday. I was very close to going."
Moore played well at SMU, starting both seasons, but a knee injury as a senior was the reason he was not drafted in April, he believes.
"Yeah, I definitely think it did. I think it had a big part," he said. "Everyone I talked to was pretty much (saying), 'We like what we see of you on film.' But I was red-flagged for the injury."
The Raiders had him but lost him, and now Moore finds himself a million miles, metaphorically, from his Laney days. Of course, he also had noticed a not-so subtle difference from Oakland to New England, saying the Patriots were the more "professional" organization. You don't say ...
Another difference: The Patriots routinely rely on players who have come from the woodwork to play key roles, and Moore is just the latest in a long line. His role has grown, and he helped send his new team into the playoffs on a high note, running back an interception for a touchdown in the Patriots' Week 17 thrashing of the Bills. The ball, for the record, went to Mom.
But it was in the postseason that Moore has raised his game even more. Although he missed a tackle on Ravens WR Torrey Smith that resulted in a touchdown, Moore battled back with maybe the two biggest defensive plays of the game — a now-famous strip of WR Lee Evans' would-be touchdown catch that would have sent the Ravens, not the Patriots, to the Super Bowl, and also the pass he defended on the next play against TE Dennis Pitta.
And yes, the rumor is true: Moore had no idea what the defensive call was on the Evans play.
"They were going hurry-up," he said. "I was on the far side. I was looking at (Devin McCourty), and he was looking at me. We were just giving each other that look like, 'I don't know.' I just played man. It worked out."
Moore's life hasn't been the same since. After the Ravens game, Moore estimates his Twitter population increased by "2,000 to 2,500" followers. So, has his head gotten big in the past two weeks?
"Naw, he's a real down-to-earth guy," McCourty said. "He's been real cool with us. He's just one of the guys."
On Sunday, Moore will be one of the guys charged with stopping a potent Giants passing attack that features three talented receivers — Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and the man he almost would have covered in practice daily at UMass, Victor Cruz.
So which is he most impressed by?
"They're all amazing," Moore said. "They each have skills that make them tough to cover, for different reasons."
If Moore and the Patriots win, he and his teammates will each earn an $88,000 check. For stars such as Tom Brady, that's lift-up-the-couch-cushion cash. For Moore, it would be a windfall.
"For someone like me, that's quite a bit more than I would make in a game. But I am not really thinking about the money. Just trying to get the 'W.' "
Spoken like a true Patriot. He might not have been in town long, and he readily admits he was a born-and-bred Raiders fan. But Moore has forgotten about The Tuck Rule game ("Definitely something I carried with me for a long time, but when I got here, I was able to let it go," he said) and is buying into the Patriot Way.
Turns out, they are pretty fond of him, too.