"Do they think Tate is Moss?" a friend asked Wednesday morning.
It's a valid -- yet ultimately ridiculous -- question. Do the Patriots really think Brandon Tate, now in his second year in the NFL, can replace Randy Moss, a seven-time Pro Bowler? The answer, of course, is no. Tate is no Moss.
Tate is, however, the next best thing to Moss, who caught 50 touchdown passes over three-plus seasons in New England. And for now, Tate will have to do. As scary as that is, I suppose the only way to proceed rationally is to at least give Tate a shot (even though I'm sure as hell going to miss watching Moss every week.) The 6-foot-1, 195-pound receiver out of North Carolina has already shown off blistering speed. He has two kickoff return TDs this season, including a 103-yarder Monday night.
So he can fly. But that won't be enough to fill Moss' void. No. 81 drew multiple defenders, or at the very least, the opposing team's best cornerback, every week. Tate runs really, really fast. But he doesn't scare defensive coordinators. Not yet at least.
Tedy Bruschi mentioned Tate's potential on SportsCenter Wednesday morning. But most people, including Kissing Suzy Kolber's Tommy from Quinzee and you know, actual NFL players, are only focusing on Moss' departure. (A note on Tommy: we're not all like him, thank God. But let's be honest: he's a chillingly accurate composite character.)
Wes welker lanes are going to get a whole lot smaller to work with now! I really wanna see wat belichick has in store
We hope Bill Belichick will unleash Tate, the NCAA's career record holder in combined kick and punt returns yards with 3,523. During his junior season at UNC, in 2007, Tate ranked first in the ACC with 1,765 all-purpose yards.
Tate tore both the ACL and MCL in his right knee in 2008, forcing him to miss most of his senior season at UNC. Still, the Patriots weren't scared off and picked him in the third round of the 2009 draft. As a rookie last season, his balky knee caused him to miss all but two games. But Monday's display leads me to believe that at the moment, injuries aren't an issue.
Through four games, Tate has 11 catches for 135 yards. He will, inevitably, get more action without Moss around. As my former colleague points out, expect teams to really go after Brady. Instead of sending out extra defensive backs, defensive coordinators now will likely unleash extra pass rushers. The presence of Tate, I hope, will help offset the onslaught. As will Welker and rookie Aaron Hernandez. Thankfully, this isn't 2006, when the Patriots were talent-starved on offense. (Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel and Chad Jackson weren't exactly all-world receivers.)
But in the end, obsessing over the offense probably isn't worth it. Even if Tate catches 80 passes for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns, it may not matter. With Brady, the Patriots offense will be in good hands. It's the defense we should worry about.
The Patriots were dominant Monday night, but they still gave up 400 yards of total offense. Chad Henne threw for for 302 yards. New England's D is ranked 28th out of 32 (28th against the pass, 18th against the run). Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Ty Law, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison are long gone. So instead of worrying about whether Tate will fill Moss' void, perhaps we should be worrying about the defense.
If the Patriots can't stop anybody, not even a young Jerry Rice would be able to save them.