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Pats Past: Randy Moss sets the single-season receiving touchdown record

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It’s theme week at SB Nation, so let’s take a look at one of the most unfair duos in NFL history.

Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

SB Nation Theme Week! Just like a theme party, except you don’t have to go out and scour thrift shops for a 90s outfit or stuff that’ll look rad under a blacklight and hopefully when you wake up in the morning, you won’t have a headache and you’ll know where your phone and keys are.

(Who you wake up next to, well, that’s on you)

Earlier this week, our tireless breaker-downer-of-rosters and five-tool player Bernd threw it way back to the ‘78 Patriots and their all-time great monster rushing season where they pummeled defenses on the ground for 3,165 yards. And as Bernd pointed out other day, this one ain’t going anywhere unless somebody figures out a way to *actually* make EXOTIC SMASHMOUTH work in the post-Bill-Polian-whining-to-the-NFL-about-cornerbacks-being-mean era. File that one away for bar trivia night. It’s way easier to remember than science.

Almost exactly 30 years after that Patriots team blasted their way into the history books, the 2007 Patriots invited all their new and old friends to a bonfire at their house and torched the NFL’s offensive record books into oblivion. And even though most of those 2007 records eventually got one-upped by

(trigger warning)

...Peyton Manning, Broncos Edition, there’s still one that hasn’t even come close to being touched since 2007. And in the “it’s not bragging if it’s true” category, in all likelihood this one ain’t getting beaten either without another pair of GOATS the likes of which the world has never seen before. You already know: Randy Moss’s 23 receiving touchdowns.

(Ironically, the only other person to come close since then also plays for New England, but we’ll get to that later.)

Moss’s 23 receiving touchdowns beat a twenty-year record held by Jerry Rice from the ‘87 season, where Rice hauled in 22 touchdowns from Joe Montana. And if you thought going into 2007 that a duo of Randy Moss, who had just hit the big 3-0 in birthdays and had two of the worst seasons of his career, and a 30-year-old Tom Brady known more for checking down and hitting the quick throws would get anywhere close to even eating in the same steakhouse as Rice and Montana, then we’ll have to check your New Englander credentials cause that’s a FAR too positive attitude for your typical Masshole.

According to Troy Brown, by the time Randy got to New England he was packing a new arsenal of weapons in addition to still being able to do his best Sonic the Hedgehog impression down the field. Moss had also refined the crispness of his route-running to stop on a dime and turn for the ball on curls and hitches and quick-hit routes, and if you remember how far off Randy some defensive backs were playing already, this just turned it into a matter of “How would you like your ass handed to you today?”

Clearly, Brady and Moss had already had their “Did we just become best friends?” moment by the time they hit the field against the Jets in Week 1, cause in that game alone Randy almost hit 200 yards (183 if you want to be a nerd about it) on just NINE receptions and hit the end zone for a score. After that, Brady to Moss was just pure razzle-dazzle destruction every weekend - Moss racked up 7 touchdowns and 505 receiving yards by the end of Week 4, and after what was surely a welcome break in the Week 10 bye, Randy outscored the Bills almost three times over BY HIMSELF in a 56-10 barbecue where Randy hit pay dirt four times in the same game.

Then there was the Anthony Smith Steelers-win-guarantee game in Week 14 where Randy hit the end zone twice in one game and Falcon-punched Smith into another dimension for his insolence, and that brings us to Week 17, New York Jets, where Randy’s already caught one and tied Jerry Rice’s record and there’s still plenty-o-time on the clock.

Even if Moss had dropped a catch (shocking, I know) on the exact same play-call the play before.

The Patriots’ response? Run it again. Should work this time.

Aaaaaaaaaand then, well, you guys like videos? I love videos. Roll it!

What do say to that, Ellis Hobbs?

It was kind of a Jordan moment. You knew it would happen, just not when. You knew he was going to Moss. Randy missed it. Then he did it again. Like it was meant to be. It looked so easy. They knew it was coming, and they couldn’t stop it. Everybody knew what we were going to do. We knew that you knew. Go stop it.

The final stat line: 98 catches, 1,493 receiving yards, an average 15.2 yards per reception, and, speaking of Jordan, 23 touchdowns. Moss also caught 61.3% of the balls thrown his way, and for everyone who still insists he’s just a deep-ball freak, in 6 games that season, his longest reception was 20 yards or less. For as many times as Randy just hit the turbo and left a corner in a different zip code, he’s using his aforementioned newfound short game to get open on in-routes, curls, slants, and catching mailbox throws and jump balls with equally terrifying precision.

You know how hard a Bill Belichick compliment is to come by, and Bill’s said on more than one occasion that Moss was “probably the smartest receiver I ever coached”. The speed, the NBA-Jam vertical leap, the hands that could catch almost anything he could get two fingers on, those are all great tools, but if Randy didn’t dive headfirst into one of the NFL’s most infamously complicated and (at the time) revolutionary offenses, none of this ever happens.

And that’s why it’s really hard to say with a straight face that Moss’s 23-touchdown season is in danger of getting passed anytime soon, or even at all. It took the quarterback that we all know now had what it takes to be the GOAT all along, a once-in-a-lifetime player like Randy, a coach that’s objectively the best to ever do it almost no matter how you slice it, and a completely out-of-nowhere scheme that the NFL had no idea how to defend.

Oh, I almost forgot: guess who’s come closest to Moss’s record since he set it 11 years ago?

Rob Gronkowski in 2011, with 17 receiving touchdowns. After that, there’s quite a few names you’ll recognize that hit 16 scores in a post-Randy-Moss-in-blue world, like Dez Bryant in 2014, Jimmy Graham in 2013, and Calvin Johnson in 2011.

Good job, good effort. But nowhere close.

That’s how unstoppable ‘07 Brady to Moss was - even Brady throwing to Rob Gronkowski in another “You thought that was cool? Watch this” new scheme that bamboozled the NFL all over again wasn’t enough to get any closer than 6 touchdowns away from the record.

I guess the only real answer to whether or not Moss’s 23 will stand forever is that if anyone ever even gets close to it again, we’ll all be even more lucky to have witnessed it.

Or like the joke goes, “Think about it, you could’ve been born at any point in human history, and you’re here in the Tom Brady era”.