By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 22, 2005
As Santana Moss pulled himself up from the Texas Stadium turf, moments after burning the Dallas defense for a 39-yard touchdown grab on a fourth-and-15 play Monday night, an internal dialogue commenced. The Redskins still trailed, 13-7, and the wide receiver's best was yet to come.
Moss repeated the score in his mind, a constant reminder that his work was not done. There was still time to get the ball back. " 'You can't be satisfied with that,' " he later said, when asked what was running through his mind. " 'Let's go, let's go,' " he recalled thinking.
Washington would need another long pass or two. A touchdown could win the game. On the next possession, Moss provided those points, this time on a 70-yard bomb from Mark Brunell with less than three minutes to play, snapping the Redskins' nine-year losing streak in Dallas, lifting the team to 2-0 and revitalizing what for 12 months had been an impotent offense.
"Even when you say you work hard for it, you never imagine it coming out like this," Moss said of his heroic finish. "There's nothing I can tell you I went out there and did last week to make me have that game. I think games like that, they linger around until that moment. It all comes from you just being sure of yourself as a player and knowing that you've given your all every play and never quit."
Moss caught five passes for 159 yards against the Cowboys -- a career best for yardage -- and yesterday was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week, the first Redskin to win that award since former wide receiver Rod Gardner in 2001.
Moss's 70-yard reception was also a career best, and he currently ranks second overall in the NFL in receiving yards, two behind Randy Moss of the Oakland Raiders. He is averaging more than 28 yards per catch -- best in the NFC -- for a team that averaged only five yards per attempt last season, injecting the kind of theatrics Coach Joe Gibbs envisioned when he traded wideout Laveranues Coles to the New York Jets for Moss, incurring a $9-million hit against the salary cap, the NFL-mandated limit on what each team can spend on players' salaries.
Moss has produced catches of 50 yards or more in each of the first two games, about the only consistent aspect of Washington's offense to this point. Moss already has three catches of 39 yards or more; the Redskins had five all of last season. Washington did not have a touchdown catch of more than 18 yards last season, and no catches over 51 in all of 2004.
Moss's impact could not have been greater.
"He has fantastic long-ball, and ball reactions," Gibbs said. "Very few people can snatch a ball right out of the air like that quick. And then the other thing, he's got a great burst, and when you get him going downfield and put in the ball reaction, he can be running, I think, and doesn't even put his hands up until the last second because he has such confidence there in where the ball is. Even though he's a shorter receiver, I think he's very much a downfield threat because of that, and then, of course, he's got great speed."
Without that speed, the Redskins would be lost. Moss streaked behind cornerback Aaron Glenn and safety Roy Williams -- two quality defensive backs -- on both of his grabs Monday. He has outstanding instincts in the open field, already displaying a knack for gaining yards after the catch that was lacking last season, and his pure speed and refined technique (he was an NCAA track star at Miami) force opponents to respect Washington's deep passing game.
"He's got a lot of speed," Dallas Coach Bill Parcells said after the loss. "And we underestimated that a little bit under pressure."
"Santana really showed the afterburners," wide receiver James Thrash said. "I was out there, and I was shocked at how fast he was running."
But for all he has accomplished, Moss is quick to point out how much more he has to offer. "I'm never a guy to pat myself on the back or anything," he said. "I know there's a lot of room for improvement." Brunell has only started one game with Moss, and their timing and chemistry are still developing. There were several misses on pump-and-go routes and post patterns before the ball finally found Moss in the clutch, and this offense went 116 minutes before hitting the end zone.
"When you're playing with a guy with that much speed, you can't underthrow him," Brunell said. "You've just got to throw it out there about as far as you can, because he's going to get it. He made some great plays for us, but we've got some work to do. We had two big plays that got us the win, but there's still some timing there; still some work that needs to be done. If you watch the game you realize that we've still got to clean up some things. The passing game wasn't entirely there."
Redskins Notes: Linebacker LaVar Arrington played less Monday than in Week 1, with the defense flourishing as presently constructed. "We want him to be an impact guy and we want to get him in there," Gibbs said. "From week to week, it will depend on what the packages are and how he fits in." Arrington said his surgically repaired knee is fully healthy, and he hopes to play more in the future, but understands his role, given the team's success. . . . The Redskins are 5-2 in their last seven games dating from last season, with both losses by three points. . . .
Kicker John Hall (quadriceps), tackle Jon Jansen (thumbs), safety Pierson Prioleau (hamstring), linebacker Lemar Marshall (groin), defensive tackle Brandon Noble (knee), tight end Robert Royal (leg), safety Sean Taylor (shoulder) and running back Clinton Portis (rest) did not practice; Noble is out at least another month, while Hall, Marshall, and Prioleau could be back for the next game. . . . Running back Jonathan Combs was released from the practice squad, and offensive lineman Jason Nerys was signed to it.