Belichick, Brady rush to Moss' defense after Panthers rip receiver

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick fired back at two Carolina Panthers defenders who criticized wide receiver Randy Moss' effort.

Belichick, who rarely rips opponents, said Monday, "My response would be that's a lot of conversation coming from a team that just lost another game."

After Moss had only one catch for 16 yards during the Patriots' 20-10 victory over the Panthers on Sunday, Carolina cornerback Chris Gamble and safety Chris Harris said the receiver, who had a reputation for going less than full speed when he was with the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders when those teams struggled, didn't go all out during the game.

"We knew he was going to shut it down," Gamble told The Boston Globe. "He'd just give up a lot, slow down, he's not going deep, not trying to run a route. You can tell (by his) body language."

Said Harris: "That's what it is with him. You get physical with him, and I don't want to say he quits, but he kind of doesn't run the routes the way they're supposed to be run. If you get a jam on him, he'll just ease up."

Belichick and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady came to the defense of Moss, who had 98 receptions in 2007 when he set an NFL record with 23 touchdown catches. The Patriots were 18-0 that season before losing the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. Moss added 69 catches last season when New England went 11-5.

Moss has 69 catches for 1,074 yards and nine touchdowns this season but just six receptions for 149 yards and one touchdown in his past three games.

"I have a lot of respect for Randy. I think he's one of our best players," Belichick said. "If you watch other teams defend him, watch other teams play against him, they think the same way, other than these two guys from Carolina after they lost another game. I guess they don't think that way, but they haven't won a lot of games now."

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The Patriots (8-5) didn't go ahead of the Panthers (5-8) until Brady threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Benjamin Watson with 1:06 left in the third quarter. The double-teaming that Moss receives has forced Brady to throw the ball elsewhere, and New England wide receiver Wes Welker leads the NFL with 105 catches this season.

Late in the first quarter, Moss didn't break sharply toward the sideline, and Gamble intercepted Brady's pass.

"Randy saw something. He went to the place he thought the ball would be," Brady said during his regular Monday appearance on WEEI radio. "I don't think you can blame Randy for that."

And Brady took his own shot at Gamble.

"I've seen plays made on Chris Gamble over the course of the season, too," the quarterback said. "Guys, when they play Randy, want to show what they can do. ... but Randy's one of the best players in the history of the NFL."

The Panthers steered clear of the issue Monday.

"Who cares?" Harris said of Belichick's comments.

Panthers coach John Fox said: "That's not my job to evaluate (Moss). They won."

Gamble didn't appear in the locker room Monday while reporters were allowed inside.

The only pass that Moss caught Sunday was a 16-yarder over the middle on the first play of the second quarter. But Moss fumbled when Harris hit him, and linebacker Dan Connor recovered the ball for the Panthers.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Moss dropped a pass while being guarded only by Gamble, and the Patriots settled for a field goal. Later, Moss' false-start penalty gave the Patriots a third-and-13, which they didn't convert. But a roughing-the-kicker call extended the drive that ended in another field goal.

Moss spent seven years with the Vikings and two with the Raiders. He had career-lows of 42 catches for 553 yards in Oakland in 2006 and expressed a desire to be traded.

"Maybe (it's) because I'm unhappy and I'm not too much excited about what's going on," Moss said in November 2006, "so my concentration and focus level tends to go down sometimes when I'm in a bad mood. So all I can say is if you put me in a good situation and make me happy, man, you get good results."

Moss played well last season despite the absence of Brady, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during the opener. Moss had at least 116 receiving yards in five of his first nine games this season, with the Patriots going 6-3. But they lost two of the next three games before Moss and three teammates were sent home Wednesday by Belichick after they reported late for a team meeting on a snowy morning.

Welker was New England's primary receiver Sunday, catching 10 passes for 105 yards. Brady said Moss was frustrated during the game but that "you've just got to keep fighting." At one point, Brady was seen talking animatedly to Moss, who was on the bench.

"You don't need to do it with Wes very much," Brady said on WEEI. "He's unbelievable."

So does Moss have to be reminded that he can't get frustrated when he's double teamed and can't have a game with only one catch?

"You know how I feel about stats," Belichick said. "Stats are for losers. Final scores are for winners."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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