FOXBOROUGH — Three seasons have passed since Randy Moss, in a Patriots uniform, caught 83 passes for 1,264 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The 35-year-old Moss is now a depth receiver with the 49ers. Four San Francisco players have caught more passes this season than Moss.
But to his former boss, Moss remains a home-run threat who will require the Patriots' attention on Sunday night.
"He's the greatest deep-ball receiver I think that's ever played," Bill Belichick said Wednesday during a conference call with San Francisco reporters. "Nobody runs better patterns, better at the deep part of the field, than Randy Moss can. I still see him doing that. You have to respect his ability to stretch the field so deep and get behind you. It's hard to take that away and defend everything else that he can do. He's an explosive, dynamic player. Probably the smartest receiver I've ever coached. I know he absolutely knows what he's doing, knows what the defense is doing."
Moss has 21 catches for 326 yards and two touchdowns.
"He's still a very, very good receiver," said Devin McCourty. "I learned a lot just going against him when he was here. You see him out there, he's still able to make plays. There are special things about him. He's still able to get by guys. I guess one good thing is that we have some familiarity with him where that can help us a little bit. But he's still a very good receiver."
With Julian Edelman out for the season, Wes Welker recorded four punt returns for 50 yards in Monday night's win over Houston. Welker has returned 13 punts this season.
Belichick acknowledged the team monitors players who must assume additional workloads.
"We talk about that every week, certainly players and what their roles are in the kicking game plus what they do on offense and defense, whatever those are," Belichick said. "That includes some situational things, like goal-line, third-down, short-yardage. It depends on the player. But sure, we try and be conscious of all the things they have to do for that week. Some players carry more of the load than others. But we try and be conscious of that every week. That doesn't mean we can't put a big load on somebody or put a smaller load on somebody. But yes, it's something we're conscious of."
Welker could pass a former 49er on Sunday against San Francisco. He has caught 10 or more passes in 17 games, tying him with Jerry Rice.
Meeting of minds
Prior to Monday's game, Belichick chatted with Celtics coach Doc Rivers on the sideline.
"It was great to have Doc here," said Belichick. "I have a lot of respect for Doc and the program the Celtics run. I think he does a tremendous job coaching his team. I really admire the way his teams play and the way his players play. He gets great leadership from a lot of those guys that he's had through the years: Kevin [Garnett], Paul [Pierce], guys like that. I've learned a lot from watching them."
Belichick said he and Rivers have talked occasionally to exchange ideas. Rivers has addressed the Patriots, while Belichick has done the same with the Celtics.
"On a professional level, there's certainly a lot that I've learned from watching Doc and the Celtics," Belichick said. "The way they do a lot of things organizationally, his coaching style, the things he's talked to me about the way he handles players and certain situations. Things like that. He's talked to our team. He's said a lot of things that really made sense, really hit home."
Brady the man
Tom Brady was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week after completing 21 of 35 passes for 296 yards against the Texans with four touchdowns and zero interceptions.
The Patriots recognized Brady and Wednesday's 12-12-12 date on the Gillette Stadium scoreboard. A picture of Brady was flanked by a pair of 12s.
Brady has been cramming for the 49ers. He said he started preparing after the 49-19 win over the Jets on Nov. 22.
"I put a couple of days in there," Brady said. "After the game on Monday night, I felt like I just had to watch their most recent game, and I was caught up. You try to take advantage of a little extra time, a little planning. Probably wouldn't have done that 10 years ago."
The Patriots made the signing of Deion Branch official. Branch was re-signed to replace Donte' Stallworth, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday. Stallworth injured his ankle against Houston while catching a 63-yard touchdown pass.
"That's a bummer for Donte'," Brady said. "He was so excited to be back. He makes a great play and gets injured on the play. So, that was disappointing."
Branch has caught nine passes for 80 yards this season. He was released on Nov. 17.
"With Donte' out, he gives us a good level of experience and knows our system," Belichick said. "He's played for us and we have confidence in him."
Aldon Smith set a 49ers record for sacks in a season. He has 19½ sacks, 3½ off Michael Strahan's league record. "It has to be a positive play," Smith said of sacks in general. "You're stopping the guy who's controlling the offense from making a play. Any time you do that, that's a pretty big play." . . . The Patriots went through a light, no-pads practice inside the Dana-Farber bubble . . . Linebacker Brandon Spikes wasn't spotted at the beginning of practice, but according to the team-issued report, he was on the field, limited with knee and ankle injuries. Kyle Love had permission to miss the workout. He and his wife, Constance, welcomed the birth of their first child, a son, on Wednesday . . . Rob Gronkowski plans on practicing this week. The tight end underwent surgery Nov. 19 . . . The Patriots signed receiver/returner Tony Logan to the practice squad. He replaces offensive lineman Tommie Draheim, who was released on Tuesday.