- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Week 1 of the NFL season — ain’t it wonderful? The preseason has become such a smoke-and-mirrors exercise that it’s hard to get much of a read on teams from exhibition games. Starters see only token playing time before they’re evacuated to the sideline, and franchise backs like LaDainian Tomlinson are withheld from combat entirely lest some headhunting rookie try to make a name for himself en route to the waiver wire.

At the Foxboro Kremlin, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was even more surreptitious than usual this year. There was barely a sighting in training camp of new acquisition Randy Moss, who was said to be dealing with some kind of hamstring injury. Only at the last minute was Moss activated for the opener.

Now we know what was really going on. Moss and Tom Brady were off on some distant practice field, playing catch, and New England was waiting until the Real Games started to unveil its latest offensive weapon. After all, Jets coach Eric Mangini, a former Belichick assistant, knew the Patriots as well as anybody, but he didn’t know them with Moss as part of the package. How was he supposed to prepare for a ghost, a figment of his imagination?

Well, you saw the results. Moss had nine catches for 183 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown, as the Pats blew away the Jets 38-14. For the record, it was his most receptions in a game since December 2003 (when he also had nine against the Bears) and his most yards since January 1999 (when he totaled 188 vs. the Rams). All this from The Wideout Who Wasn’t There a week ago.

You could say Randy Moss has come in from the cold, but exactly the opposite is true: He’s stepped out into the cold, traded the comfortable climes of the Bay Area — and the room temperature of the Metrodome before that — for frosty New England. Of course, he did once score two TDs at Lambeau Field in the dead of winter to knock the Packers out of the playoffs, so maybe he’ll be all right … provided he wears an extra pair of long johns.

I’m trying to remember whether this has ever happened before, whether a future Hall of Fame quarterback has ever been joined in mid-career by a future Hall of Fame receiver — when both, that is, still had some greatness left. OK, I just thought of an example: Jim Kelly hooking up with James Lofton when the latter came to Buffalo in 1989. That’s a bit of a stretch, though, inasmuch as few considered Kelly a Hall of Famer at the time.

The same goes for Bob Griese and Paul Warfield, who were brought together in 1970, before Griese had accomplished much. Anyway, the Brady-Moss pairing is rare — and definitely to be savored (unless you’re trying to defend against them). Fearless prediction: By the end of season, people will be asking Tom, “If you had to make a choice, who would you give up, Randy or Gisele Bundchen?” (I wouldn’t expect him to give a snap answer either.)

Yesterday, by the way, there was a report the Patriots might have spied on the Jets by having an employee videotape New York’s defensive coaches as they signaled to their players on the field.

Which still doesn’t explain Ellis Hobbs’ record-setting 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Other observations about the NFL’s opening week:

c Gregg Williams can’t have been too thrilled to see Tony Romo and Eli Manning both top 300 passing yards in the Cowboys’ 45-35 outscoring of the Giants.

c Old friend Adam Archuleta had seven solo tackles and a pass defensed in his debut with the Bears. Just so you know: He wasn’t credited with a single pass defensed in his seven-game “career” with the Redskins last year (according to the team’s media guide).

c Is there a more overpraised unit in the league than the Jaguars’ defensive line? John Henderson, Marcus Stroud and Co. gave up 282 yards rushing in a 13-10 loss to the Titans — and Vince Young’s wanderings accounted for only 22 of them. Most of the damage was done by Chris Brown (175) and LenDale White (66).

c The Seahawks (20-6 winners over the Bucs) look like their 2005/Super Bowl selves again. Unfortunately for the NFC, the Saints (41-10 losers to the Colts in the Thursday nighter) also look like their 2005 selves again.

c Four teams that may not be worth following: the Falcons, Raiders, Chiefs and Browns.

On the Browns’ first punt of the season, late roster addition Paul Ernster dropped the snap and got off only a 15-yarder to the Cleveland 32.

To make matters worse, the Browns were guilty of four penalties on the play — two for holding, one for illegal formation and one for ineligible man downfield. One of the holding penalties was accepted, and the Steelers took possession at the 22.

It’s gonna be a long season by the lake.

c And finally, well-traveled Travis Henry rushed for 139 yards in his first game with the Broncos, helping them edge the Bills 15-14. Travis, you may have heard, has nine children by nine women, which makes him this year’s NFL Player Most Likely To Have His Wages Garnished.

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