FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -Randy Moss and Matt Cassel huddled at their adjacent lockers, gesturing and talking about pass patterns.
They would have plenty of time to work together in practice. But the Patriots new passing combination - the untested quarterback and the star wide receiver - tried to smoothe out some rough spots even before they practiced for Sunday's game at San Francisco.
The chemistry that's developed between Moss and his teammates is one reason they elected him captain even though he made several missteps on his road to New England last season.
Moss? A leader?
Coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday that Moss has been very good in that role.
``I think his leadership last year was every bit as good as it is this year,'' Belichick said. ``His recognition (by his teammates) as a captain speaks to that and gives him a little more support relative to the meetings that I have with the captains and the guys who have been selected as the leadership guys by the players.''
Moss appears very popular with his teammates.
He jokes in the locker room, communicates well in the huddle and has been productive on the field while avoiding controversy off of it.
Before joining the Patriots, Moss made news as much for his foibles as his feats.
With Minnesota, he was criticized by quarterback Daunte Culpepper and others for leaving the field with 2 seconds left in a game. He bumped a traffic control officer with his car in 2002, verbally abused corporate sponsors on a team bus in 2001 and squirted an official with a water bottle in 1999.
Now that Tom Brady is sidelined for the season, might Moss sulk? All 23 of his touchdown catches last season, an NFL record, were thrown by Brady.
So far there have been no signs of that even though he has just 12 receptions after three games; he had 22 in that same stretch last year.
If Cassel believes in himself, ``it will trickle on down to the whole offense,'' Moss said Wednesday. ``We have seen Matt progress in these last couple of weeks quicker than we expected him to. We just have to put guys around him.''
The Patriots' production is way off without Brady, from 114 points in the first three games last season when they went 16-0 to 49 this season in compiling a 2-1 record.
Last year, the Patriots were first in the NFL in yards gained and the 49ers were last. It's still very early, but this year the Patriots are ranked 28th and the 49ers are 12th.
Moss and the other captains to keep the team confident.
There's a reason for his success in that role.
``I think it is just believing in what coach is selling,'' Moss said. ``When you have everybody on the same page I guess it's easier to lead a team. I think everybody is buying in what he is selling. I don't think it is just me being a leader, I think it's just everybody is on the same page.
``We really have to turn things around and go out with a great week of practice because this is going to be a long road trip. I think we are up for the challenge.''
The Patriots leave Friday for the West Coast and will stay there the following week to prepare for the next game at San Diego with practices at San Jose State.
More time for Cassel and Moss to refine their teamwork. In their last game, a 38-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins, Moss caught just four passes for a total of 25 yards.
``You always want to get the ball to Randy,'' Cassel said before that game. ``He's one of the best receivers in the NFL and we're going to work hard to do that.''
Moss reads defenses very well and reports what he sees to the quarterback before the next play.
``He's really smart,'' Belichick said. ``He really understands football.''
So even if he's not catching as many passes this season, Moss contributes in another way - as a captain.
on and off the field,'' he said, ``if it is with my play, with my emotions or if it is verbally. That is a good thing. It definitely felt good to be appointed a captain of the New England Patriots.''

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