By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Santana Moss's cell phone rang as the Washington Redskins bused to Dulles Airport on Saturday afternoon, when he learned that his little brother, Sinorice, had just taken a screen pass 92 yards for a touchdown for the University of Miami. The elder Moss, Miami's all-time leading wide receiver, called Sinorice when the Redskins landed in Kansas City, Mo., to congratulate him, and 24 hours later, Sinorice, a senior wide receiver, returned the favor after Santana thrashed the Chiefs for 173 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown on a screen pass.
"To be honest with you, I think me and my little brother made history," Santana Moss said. "No bull. After his game I was like: 'Bro, you did something I never did. Congratulations.' I always have so much pride in him and always tell him to keep going and keep doing things I haven't done. I never did that on a screen before. And then I come back and do it, and when I'm running down that sideline with the ball I'm thinking: 'Look at this. I was just talking to him about this the night before.' I always tell him, 'Every time you do something on Saturday, it motivates me on Sunday to go out and do mine.' "
This has been a season of firsts for Moss, as he continues to set career marks each weekend in his first season in Washington and help revamp what had been a dormant offense. He has set personal highs for receiving yards and longest touchdown catch twice in a four-game span, leads or is near the lead in most NFL receiving categories and has been the league's premier big-play receiver, with the latest example being his 78-yard blast after taking a 10-yard horizontal pass from Mark Brunell.
The Redskins (3-2) hoped Moss, 26, would make a significant impact, after trading top wideout Laveranues Coles to the New York Jets, incurring a $9 million salary cap hit and then signing Moss to a six-year, $31 million deal (with $11 million guaranteed). Through five games, he has exceeded expectations and is on the cusp on joining the upper echelon of wide receivers. Moss is on pace for a monumental season -- 106 catches for 2,019 yards (the NFL record is 1,848 by Jerry Rice) and 13 touchdowns, which would also set franchise records for touchdown receptions and equal Art Monk's single-season reception mark.
"I don't think anybody could dream that a guy comes in one year and tries to get used to everybody, and for him to be that productive," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Obviously, we couldn't be more pleased or more impressed. And his attitude is great. He just loves being in practice, he's really pretty quiet, he doesn't say a whole lot; he just hustles himself silly trying to make plays."
Moss, selected 16th overall in 2001, and Brunell personify Washington's dramatic offensive rebirth. In 2004, the Redskins ranked 30th in total offense, 29th in passing and 28th in third-down efficiency. Now, the Redskins stand sixth in offense, eighth in passing yards per game and third in third-down efficiency; passer and receiver account for a bulk of the yardage, and Moss is tied for the NFL lead in third-down catches while Brunell ranks seventh with a 93.4 rating on third down.
A game has yet to go by in which Moss, who never caught more than 74 passes for 1,105 yards in four seasons with the Jets, has not stood out.
Moss, whose youngest brother, Lloyd Jr., is a freshman wide receiver at Florida International, has eight catches of 30 yards or more and at least one in each of the team's five games; the Redskins had 10 such plays all of last season and no receiver had more than three. Moss has three plays of 50 yards or more; the Redskins had one reception of 50 yards in 2004. Moss already has touchdowns of 78, 70 and 39 yards; the Redskins' longest touchdown reception last season was 18 yards, their only scoring pass over 15 yards. Moss has at least 87 yards receiving in all five games; a Redskin reached that total five times total in 2004. Moss already has two multiple-touchdown receptions games; the Redskins had two such games as a team in 2004.
"I feel like I'm back in college, honest to God, truly," said Moss, who set numerous Big East track and field records at Miami. "That's what we did in college. The things I'm doing now, it's no different from the University of Miami. We took our chances when it came and made something happen; that's what you want as a guy who can make plays.
"You can be the fastest guy on the team, but if you get the ball four times and they spread it out once here and once the next blue moon, that doesn't make you who you are. And I think the more times you see the ball, the more opportunities you get, the more comfortable you are with the game and you can go out there and see those things. So true and all I do feel that, and I think that comes with the opportunity."
In Week 2, Moss (listed generously at 5 feet 10, 190 pounds) caught touchdown bombs of 70 and 39 yards in a 71-second span to stun Dallas with a 14-13 defeat, then bested his totals Sunday in Kansas City, tying a career high with 10 catches and setting a personal record with 173 yards. He has shown an ability to get behind the defense and latch on to deep passes, and has the speed and instincts to gain abundant yards after the catch as well, such as taking the screen pass 78 yards against the Chiefs.
"I knew he was good, but he's amazing me every time," said left tackle Chris Samuels, who delivered a crucial block on the screen Sunday. "Just on that receiver screen, I blocked my guy and I looked up and I just saw Santana tight-walking the sidelines and he blazed by this guy. I mean, this guy had the angle and everything, and it was no chance for him to catch Santana. He's amazing me every time we step out and play a game."
Moss's desire to return punts and nonstop work rate -- including racing 80 yards and tackling Kansas City safety Sammy Knight in the end zone to try to prevent a fumble return for a touchdown Sunday -- immediately endeared him to the Redskins. His game-changing attributes -- such as three clutch catches for 52 yards and a touchdown on one drive Sunday when it was apparent Brunell was favoring him -- have only heightened that popularity.
"It's like PlayStation," safety Matt Bowen said. "That's the best way to put it. You know when you're playing video games and you throw it to your hot guy the whole game? That's what it's like. It's amazing to watch. He's a great guy to have in the locker room, too. He's a great addition to this team and to this city, really. I think this city needs to embrace him as one of D.C.'s own. He's that special of a player."