By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Following the 16-13 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Nov. 20, Santana Moss was convinced he was not going to catch another meaningful pass all season. Injuries to David Patten and James Thrash had left the Washington Redskins' wide receiving corps so depleted and desperate for a secondary playmaker that the formula for stopping the Redskins' passing game was certain: double-team Moss.
For a time, it appeared to work. But after yesterday, when Moss caught five passes for 160 yards and three touchdowns, he has not only beaten the formula but has put together one of the great seasons in Redskins history.
Moss now has 80 catches for 1,400 yards, just 36 yards from the team record held by Bobby Mitchell.
The week began with him savoring both last Sunday's 35-7 blowout of the Cowboys, the team against whom Moss appeared on the Redskins' map in September with two long touchdowns in the final four minutes, as well as enjoying his return as the Redskins' deep threat with two catches for 73 yards.
For the first six games, Moss was the most dangerous deep threat in football. Then, after the 36-0 blowout to the Giants in which he was held to four catches for 34 yards, Moss seemed to become the focus of each opposing defense. Over the next four games, Moss was held without a touchdown. Before last week's Dallas game, Moss's average per catch was held under 20 yards for seven consecutive weeks.
And until yesterday's three-touchdown outburst, Moss had caught but two touchdowns since Oct. 23, which happened to be his last 100-yard game.
"When his feet hit the ground, he's gone," said Redskins assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel. "He's one of the very best I've seen get started like that."
The difference, Bugel said, could be seen yesterday. The coaching staff was as concerned as Moss at the constant double-coverage packages thrown in his direction, and began countering by putting him in motion. Instead of lining up wide and staying there, Moss was moving at the snap.
"We're trying to get him in different locations on the football field, where they almost have to end up in single coverage on him," Bugel said. "And I think the quarterbacks realize if he's just one on one out there, throw the ball to him, even if it looks like he's covered, because the guy can make big catches. We know to survive and to score, he has to be the guy we get the ball to."
The week that began with Dallas continued with Moss being named to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career and it ended yesterday, when Moss was electrifying.
He scored in a variety of ways, all of which were backbreaking to the Giants. The Giants missed an opportunity to score on their first play of the game, when Plaxico Burress beat safety Ryan Clark but dropped the ball in the end zone. Where Burress erred, Moss excelled. On third and four from Washington's 26, nickel cornerback Curtis Deloatch was called for pass interference on Moss that kept what would be a 13-play drive going.
On the 13th play, a second and 10 from the Giants 17, Mark Brunell hit Moss on a wide receiver screen that appeared to be doomed from the start. Cornerback Will Allen played tight coverage on Moss, who expected to catch the ball and gain perhaps a yard or two. But he slipped Allen and raced into the end zone.
Moss believes defenses have begun to focus safeties on running back Clinton Portis, which would free him from double coverage and place him in more one-on-one situations.
That was the case, he believed, on his second touchdown. On first and 10 from his 41, Brunell faked a handoff to Portis, which seemed to freeze Allen. Moss raced by him toward the end zone. Brunell threw a deep ball that seemed to hang in the air, yet while trying to recover, Allen ran past the flight of the ball. Moss adjusted and caught the pass for a 59-yard touchdown.
It was the kind of play that turned the game. To that point, the Giants held a 10-7 lead and neither team had much of an advantage. Moss changed that with a huge play.
"I think he knew I had a couple of steps on him and he thought I was going to keep heading to the post," Moss said. "But he didn't know the ball had fallen behind the both of us. Being a corner is a hard position. When that ball is in the air it's almost like a disadvantage because the receiver knows where the ball is and you don't."
He scored all of his touchdowns at the expense of cornerback Allen, the last being a bizarre knockout blow: Patrick Ramsey, who had entered the game, called two timeouts in a 10-second span. Then, he tossed a 72-yard touchdown pass to Moss. Moss broke free of Allen, who attempted to tackle him high on the shoulder pads.
"I watched the safety roll from my hash, and I thought this was like stealing from a baby," Moss said. "My eyes got big, and when I looked for the ball, I knew it was going to be a big play."
Said offensive coordinator Don Breaux: "Santana Moss is a godsend. That was a blessing. There's really no other way to put it."