Monday, December 14, 2009

The Abiding Mystery of Suck

Randy Moss had a bad game yesterday. Lots and lots of folks are sure they know why. I'm not. I don't they think they know what they're talking about, either. If figuring out why football players sometimes perform poorly was easy, football coaching would not be such an insecure profession.

I realize that reputations are irrevocable in the often-brainless of sports. That's why Moss gets 1000 times the criticism for poor play in a Patriots win than Tom Brady got for his poor performance in the fourth quarter of a LOSS to Miami, a performance directly responsible for that loss. But reputation and reality are not constant companions. Reality is a little too deep for reputation's taste.

It's possible Moss went through the motions because his feelings were hurt when Bill Belichick sent him home for being late to a meeting Wednesday morning. But when wideouts decide to cut corners, the first chore they usually skip is blocking. My television set showed several plays where Moss was diligently performing that chore. Doesn't mean he wasn't dogging it, just a note I made during the game itself.

It could be that Moss made a bad play or two early and couldn't snap out of it. In my experience, this happens far, far more often in sports than a player quitting. Effort begets failure which begets confusion and doubt which begets more failure. It would be foolish to deny that wide receivers in general and Moss in particular are more subject to mood swings than are, say, centers.

Or, and here's a radical notion, Moss might have been invisible as a receiver because the Carolina Panthers did a good job defending him. Any adequate defense can take any wide receiver out of the game, especially the deep threat guy. It's a matter of committing resources. The trick is to make that commitment without leaving the rest of the enemy offense free to do as it wishes, a trick the Panthers failed to pull off in the game's second half.

Which brings me to the oddest Moss critics of all -- the Panthers. Members of their defensive backfield said they had shut Moss down because he stopping trying. This leads one to the inescapable inference that the Panthers believe any opponent who tries hard ought to beat them silly.


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