DETROIT – Just over a month ago, Bill Belichick sent shock waves through the NFL by bringing noted problem child Albert Haynesworth to New England.

Belichick traded away a 2013 fifth-round draft pick to the Washington Redskins, reworked the defensive lineman’s monster contract to make it more Patriots-friendly, loading the deal with incentives, and basically dared Haynesworth to play like the world-class disruptor he was not too long ago.

Since the trade was completed, the suspense has been building. The Haynesworth storyline is the ultimate cliffhanger. How is Project Albert going to turn out.

Will he be that game-changing defensive lineman, a player once considered the best in football? Can Belichick coax and nudge the desired effort out of someone who has a history of playing only when he feels like it?

Given Haynesworth actually practiced last week after missing nearly three weeks of time, there was some expectation he would play in Saturday night’s 34-10 loss to the Detroit Lions — the team’s third preseason game — and that ratcheted up the hype.

Only, it didn’t happen.

Naturally, there will be some suspicion that he refused to get himself in gear for a meaningless exhibition game. Given his past, that scenario is certainly plausible. It’s just not true.

The reality?

Haynesworth’s just not fit enough to play in a game. His bad knee, the one that has been undergoing treatment the past few weeks, isn’t quite up to speed or game-ready after only a few practices. That’s the deal, so why throw him in there if there’s a chance of a setback?

The whole point is to get the menacing Haynesworth on the field for the real games. And if he has to miss the entire preseason, so be it.

Besides, maybe Belichick has already seen enough from those first few early practices to know exactly what he’s going to get. Maybe he doesn’t want his first few opponents, and the Miami Dolphins in particular, to know what they’re truly in for. Maybe he wants to keep a little suspense and mystery for the Dolphins, who the Patriots will face in the Sept. 12 season opener.

It worked with Randy Moss.

While defensive line and wide receiver are two different positions, the New York Jets were not prepared for the Moss they saw in Week 1 back in 2007. Not by a longshot.

Moss absolutely stunned the Jets. That wasn’t the same Moss the Jets had plenty of video on. That wasn’t the guy with bad wheels who quit on plays. The Moss with the Patriots in Year 1 was practically unstoppable. The single coverage the Jets put on Moss in the first game was laughable.

All Moss did was torch the Jets secondary for nine catches and 183 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown play in a 38-14 win.

Well, if the Dolphins dig out the film on Haynesworth from his Redskins days, they won’t see much to worry about. Miami will view him as nothing more than a big, fat lump of nothing.

If the Dolphins caught him the first few days we saw him at training camp, they might be thinking about another game plan. As for Saturday night’s preseason game, where the Patriots regulars saw quite a bit of action, did Haynesworth have to play? Was it really necessary?

Sure, it would have been nice for the defensive line in terms of jelling. It would have been nice to see how Vince Wilfork and Haynesworth could work together collapsing an offensive line, and see how the linebackers and defensive ends could take advantage.

Mostly, it would have been good for Haynesworth to get back into the mindset of a game and the tempo that comes with playing.

In the final analysis, in terms of Project Albert being a success or failure, having him out there against the Lions really has no bearing. He wasn’t game-ready. Plain and simple.

Belichick knows what he’s doing. He knows how he has to play this chess match involving Haynesworth, even if it ultimately proves a loss down the road.