Reading Between the Letters, Moss Finds the Answer for a Desperate Team

By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 2, 2006

The day began with a woman smiling sweetly at Santana Moss in the elevator of the team's Marriott Hotel and a subtle hint that she would be spending her afternoon in the front row of FedEx Field's east end zone. Right between the "W" and "A" of "Washington Redskins" painted on the wall behind the goalpost.

It was a smile he could not forget. And somehow in the tumult of the game's end, with the ball in his hands and nothing but green and the winning touchdown before him, this is what Moss remembered: between the "W" and the "A."

He wasn't even sure he was going to score, the stadium was thumping, his heart was pounding, his helmet wobbling on his head. He saw nothing behind him, nothing around him. Later he would say those four seconds between the moment he caught this overtime pass from Mark Brunell and he ran to the winning score was a "blur."

Pressed, he could remember few details.

Except for that spot between the "W" and the "A."

After that nothing mattered. Once he crossed the line and leaped into the stands, the world disappeared. His Redskins teammates, pounded his helmet, screamed "you the man" in his ears. But he heard nothing, felt nothing, didn't say if he saw the woman from the hotel elevator as he jumped over the wall. He never knew that as he jumped into the stands between the "W" and the "A" he was also met by a large man wearing his jersey number.

Saving the season never felt so good.

They needed Moss yesterday, needed him like they did last year in Dallas when the season seemed lost in September and he caught those two touchdowns in the last four minutes in a flurry that salvaged a year headed nowhere. Yesterday they blew a lead they never should have given up, then floundered into overtime. They could not afford to fall to 1-3, needed something huge to pull them from the abyss.

No surprise, it was once again Santana Moss.

He laughed when the overtime coin was tossed and the Jaguars called tails. "You never bet on your tail!" he later shouted. "You bet on your head."

When the coin came up heads, he not only told the officials the Redskins would take the ball, he pantomimed the double hand-catching motion that is recognized as the universal "we'll take the ball" motion to the crowd. It roared. Then he sprinted off the field.

But the matter of getting the game-winning pass into his hands was a different thing altogether. Early in the night he realized he was getting ahead of Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis. It wasn't a big space, fairly tiny really, but just enough that the confidence began to grow. Moss believes Mathis is one the best cornerbacks in the league. If he could get even the smallest amount of space between himself and Mathis, he knew he could get the ball.

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