By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 4, 2006
Had the player streaking down the left sideline been wearing any number other than 89, Mark Brunell admits he would not have attempted the pass. Brunell generally chooses not to throw into double coverage, especially in overtime of a wildly competitive game, but the temptation of trying to hit Santana Moss in full stride was just too alluring to resist.
So with the safer routes ruled out, and at least one member of the offensive coaching staff screaming in his headset for the quarterback not to look in Moss's direction, Brunell pumped the ball 20 yards downfield, knowing that if he threw it hard enough and high enough the Redskins' premier playmaker might make something spectacular happen. Moss did just that, slithering between cornerback Brian Williams and safety Deon Grant to barely avoid a collision, hauling in the pass and sprinting downfield untouched to complete a game-winning, 68-yard play on the first possession of overtime Sunday evening at FedEx Field.
"He's got the ability to go up there and make the catch and make somebody miss," Brunell said. "He's a big-play receiver, obviously. So, yeah, number 89 being out there had a lot to do with me going in that direction."
After setting the Redskins' single-season receiving yardage record in 2005, when he was the singular downfield threat in Washington's offense, Moss now has provided his first signature moments of this season. Moss, who compiled 1,483 receiving yards in 2005, shredded the vaunted Jacksonville defense in Sunday's 36-30 win. He tied a career high with three touchdown catches -- including a 55-yarder in the first quarter -- and finished with four receptions for 138 yards. Through the first three games, Moss had caught 13 passes for only 188 yards, but his performance against the Jaguars puts the New York Giants' suspect secondary on notice for Sunday's game at the Meadowlands.
Moss has topped 120 yards twice in three games against the Giants (including once when he played for the Jets), and thrashed them for 5 catches, 160 yards and 3 touchdowns in Washington's 35-20 win last December. The Giants still are struggling against the pass -- they rank 29th in passing yards allowed per game, 32nd in defensive third-down efficiency and 31st in points allowed per game -- while Moss is just hitting his stride.
And there's an extra dimension to the game. Moss will face his younger brother Sinorice, the Giants' rookie wide receiver, for the first time in the NFL. (Their youngest brother, Lloyd, is a wide receiver at Florida International University.)
"It'll be special," Santana Moss said. "We all grew up pretty much seeing this day one day. I visualized this probably more than they did. Once I started playing football, you can ask my brothers, I came home and told them everything, both of them. I fed 'em, fed 'em, fed 'em. Now they're 20 and above and I'm still feeding them more knowledge and letting them know, because I know I didn't have that growing up. That's the good thing about being a big brother."
Sinorice Moss, who at 5 feet 8 and 185 pounds has a build like Santana and shares his brother's speed, credits much of his success to that mentoring. The Giants drafted Sinorice 44th overall (like Santana, he attended Miami) despite already possessing a bountiful group of skill players, and he is slowly learning the professional game, with just one catch for four yards through three games.
"He's had a tremendous impact on my career, watching my brother while he was in college and now while he's in the NFL," Sinorice Moss told reporters earlier this year. "Guys ask me, 'Is there any pressure?' It doesn't bother me much being in my brother's shadow. He's Santana and I'm Sinorice."
Santana, 27, has not seen Sinorice, 22, play in person save for one game when Sinorice was in high school. Santana's mother did not allow him to play organized football until he was 12 -- when his other athletic choices made football look safe. "I was out there breaking arms jumping off roofs and doing body flips," Santana said. "So I'm like, 'Which one do you want me to do?' "
After that, Sinorice and Lloyd were allowed to play peewee football at a younger age, and they have been playing catch-up ever since.
But for all of the wisdom Santana Moss has imparted to his brothers, much of what he does so splendidly simply cannot be taught. Since being acquired from the Jets in 2005 for wide receiver Laveranues Coles, Moss has been uncannily elusive, as adept at pulling down a 60-yard bomb as he is turning a screen pass into a big gain. "It's God-given," Moss said.
He produced the opening touchdown Sunday by running a seven-yard comeback route from the slot with his back to cornerback Terry Cousin, curling back three yards to spin away and break a diving tackle. Moss then followed blocks from Brandon Lloyd, Clinton Portis and Chris Cooley as he ran downfield, and, with Grant angling him to the left sideline, he spun free for a 13-yard surge to the end zone, capping the 55-yard play.
"We was slowing down, and I could see the guy [was] kind of cautious of my speed," Moss said. "You can be cautious of my speed or cautious of my moves, but you can't be cautious of both of them. So I gave him a little bit of both -- I speeded up and give him a little move, too."
Moss amassed 94 yards after catching the ball on his two long touchdowns alone. "In a footrace, you'll never catch him," Portis said. That's when Moss's instincts take over, and even he is not always sure what move will come next. That's what left Grant twice grasping at air while Moss raced away.
"I can only brag on him as much as I can brag on him," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said. "I haven't had anybody who has made more plays than what he's made for us, or meant more to the team."
In time, perhaps Sinorice Moss will do the same in the NFL. Last October, Santana took a screen pass 78 yards for a touchdown at Kansas City on the same weekend Sinorice rambled 92 yards for a touchdown on a screen pass for Miami. Duplicating that feat on Sunday would be nearly impossible, but for the older Moss at least, a huge play is only a glance from the quarterback away.