There is no disputing the Patriots are significantly weaker without Moss, that they have gotten rid of one of the best players on their roster and don't have an equal replacement.
Did Moss, who had made his displeasure over his contract a public issue from the start of the season, do something to infuriate Belichick to the point where he simply couldn't tolerate having him around? Or, and this seems more likely, did Belichick simply do what he often does (what he did right before last season by sending defensive lineman Richard Seymour to Oakland) and cash out on a veteran while the getting was good? If so, the move is highly questionable given the third-round pick the Patriots received from the Vikings.
Even at 33, Moss is still one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL, which is why Brett Favre is anxious to begin throwing passes to him in Minnesota and why Tom Brady (even if he never admits as much publicly) can't be all that happy.
Moss' mere presence on the field requires opposing defenses to make certain they have an answer for him. And in having an answer for Moss, they leave questions for themselves regarding Wes Welker and other Patriot receivers.
But that win was driven by an inordinate number of big plays on special teams. Are the Patriots going to do that on a weekly basis? Doubtful. Just ask the Dolphins, whose Tuesday firing of their special-teams coach would strongly indicate that New England's success had a whole lot to do with their own failure in the kicking game.
The current version of the Patriots relies almost exclusively on offensive explosiveness to win games. Moss was a huge part of that mixture. Let's not forget the three touchdown catches he made through the first three weeks of the season, including that incredible, one-handed gem against the New York Jets. Let's not forget his ability to get open for the game-breaking play at any time.
Brady certainly won't.
Sure, he still has Welker, and second-year receiver Brandon Tate has shown promise after spending last season on injured reserve. He also has a new, exciting target in rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez, and the Patriots' passing attack is making greater use of the tight end than it has in previous years. However, tight ends benefit from Moss' ability to draw coverage just as any other New England pass-catcher. Someone with Hernandez's skills would clearly benefit more than previous tight ends who weren't as talented and, therefore, given a lesser role.
Expect opponents to adjust their coverage to focus on minimizing Welker and Hernandez. That should be a little easier to do now that they don't have Moss to worry about ... unless they have the Vikings on their schedule.