Patriots

Randy Moss: 'I've always wanted to be normal'

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Randy Moss: 'I've always wanted to be normal'

NEW ORLEANS - "I've always wanted to be normal," Randy Moss said Tuesday from a podium in the Louisiana Superdome.

During Media Day at Super Bowl XVVII, Moss wore a 49ers hat cocked to the side, a scrubby growth of beard and a wry smile for an hour of give-and-take with the media.

An unusual player, an unusual guy happily trapped for 60 minutes, giving his Moss-ian world view.

If he'd been like this more often -- less prickly with the media, making a greater effort to endear himself -- maybe he'd be lionized like Ray Lewis. But Moss is going to do what Moss is going to do. Remaining real -- i.e., his own man at all times -- hasn't made his life any easier. But it has made him one of the more compelling NFL players in terms of impact on the game, younger players and fans.

He is beloved and the people who like him least are the people he held court for on Tuesday.

"I live for myself," Moss said when I asked him why he's been so reluctant to share himself. "The thing about the media is that, everything is not said and the truth is not always told. I grew up respecting myself. I do respect other people. But when it comes to the pen and pad that you guys are writing on right now, it's just . . . you got a job to do and papers to sell. I've never come off negative. A lot of people see my focus. I don't like anything that comes outside of football to get in the way of the game."

If you parse his words, you can certainly find times in Moss' 15-year career where he's let things outside football get in the way. But those have been the exceptions, not the rule.

He's generally been about football and being with his teammates. Not selling himself or being seen at clubs or currying endorsements. Those attendant sidelights that some players embrace are, according to Moss, irritations.

"I love the game, I love to play in between the white lines," he said. "It's like a kid at school. You're sitting in the classroom and the teacher says it's recess and that door opens and all the kids just go running and screaming and jumping on swing sets and swinging. That's how I try to treat the football.

"Anytime that I step on the field, that's when I feel free," Moss added. "I can do anything I want, act any way I want because you're having fun and it's all a game. It's just like you and me sitting down to play a game of Monopoly. I love to compete and keep it near my heart."

At one point Tuesday, Moss described himself as the NFL's greatest receiver of all time.

Jerry Rice could make a convincing case otherwise. And Rice did recommend on Tuesday that Moss check the numbers. But Moss may well be, as Tom Brady often described him, the greatest downfield threat in NFL history.

In 218 regular-season NFL games, Moss has made 982 catches for 15,292 yards with 156 touchdowns. In 14 playoff games, he's caught another 52 balls for 936 yards and 10 touchdowns.

In his only previous Super Bowl, the ill-fated SB42 with the Patriots, Moss caught the go-ahead touchdown for the Patriots with 2:42 remaining.

While Lewis figuratively rides his chariot down Bourbon Street to celebrate the end of his Hall of Fame career, Moss toils on. On Tuesday, he said he wants to keep playing.

Why not jump spend the week referencing his own "legacy," as Lewis did Tuesday without a trace of self-awareness?

"That's not me," said Moss. "I'm not a celebrater. I love to do my work and go home. A lot of people see me out there in public . . . man, I've always wanted to be normal. For my whole life from elementary school up to now . . . I've been a big fan of Michael Jackson. I remember his sister or brother saying, 'Michael always just wanted to be normal.' I'm not putting myself on Michael Jackson's level, but I understood where they were coming from, I always wanted to go to the park and play a game or go shopping or go to the grocery store.

"I've always wanted to be normal," he reiterated. "Whenever people see me and they're overwhelmed that they're meeting me for the first time, I just want them to know that I'm normal. Hopefully one day, all of this will just die down and I can go play a pickup game or go to the grocery store and be normal."

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 

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The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.