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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.

"Give me a chance," he kept saying to his quarterback Mark Brunell.

So on the third play of overtime, with the ball on the Washington 32-yard line, associate head coach Al Saunders called for a one-wide receiver formation, the kind of play Moss knew would lead to Mathis rolling over to cover him near the edge of the field. Normally, the receiver in Moss's position in this formation is a decoy, drawing defenders and leaving a tight end or running back open over the middle. It was a play that was essentially designed to get the Redskins a first down, not win a game.

Still, as the huddle broke, Moss's fellow wide receiver, David Patten, looked at the formation and said he wondered to himself, "Don't [the Jaguars] realize it's going to 'Tana?"

And when it did, the ball spiraled perfectly toward Moss. Mathis was against Moss's backside as the receiver turned for the pass. Out of the corner of his eye, Moss looked to see if there was a safety coming to help Mathis. There was. Jacksonville's Deon Grant.

And Grant was coming fast.

Moss looked back toward Brunell, saw the ball, saw Grant again and worried he might be knocked through the Jaguars' bench.

"I didn't want to get killed," he later said with a laugh.

The ball slipped into his hands. He landed on his feet and stopped. Grant flew past and then Moss took off.

As Moss began to run, with a trail of players 10 yards behind, Patten raced onto the field as well. Next to him was Antwaan Randle El and they were whooping and shouting and pumping their fists.

"I don't think anyone can know how great a play that was," Patten said, still glowing about the way Brunell was able to place the pass perfectly between Mathis and Grant and how Moss could catch the ball despite the distractions, then simply explode as he raced down the field.

"There's not many plays that blow your teammates' minds," Patten said. "We do this for a living, we do it every day. But that was amazing."

Moss just kept running for the "W" and the "A." This is his favorite part of his favorite end zone at FedEx Field. He calls it the "Redskin Hop" because the fans there are always hopping up and down. They always beg him to come, to jump into their arms. How can he resist?

This had been a trying season for him. He had 13 catches for 188 yards before last night, but no touchdowns. Yes, the offense is new, everyone seems a little confused, but Moss is their best receiver, the player who along with Clinton Portis is supposed to make the offense move. He said he hasn't worried about this, that it took him time last year to get going and everyone knows how last season ended with him catching 84 passes for 1,483 yards.

Last night he caught two touchdowns in regulation in a defensive struggle that had become a shootout. But nothing was bigger than that ball he grabbed from between two Jacksonville Jaguars and took to the east end zone.

To the Redskin Hop.

And maybe just saved the season.

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