- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2008

DETROIT

Only one Redskin can take over a game in an eye blink, turn a potential loss into a “W” by the sheer force of his talent. That Redskin, we were reminded again Sunday, is Santana Moss.

Moss is the Good Kind of Drama Queen: He saves all of his theatrics for the third and fourth quarter, not the sideline, the locker room or some shock jock’s radio show (like so many other wideouts we know). And every now and then he has an impact on a game that’s kinda like, well, dropping some mint Mentos in a big bottle of Diet Coke.

The most memorable such instance was in Dallas three years ago, when he stole a victory from the Cowboys by catching two bombs from Mark Brunell in the closing minutes. But Sunday’s derring-do - a 50-yard touchdown grab and an 80-yard punt return for a score in barely five minutes - came close to matching it. Thus did a 10-9 second half deficit become a 22-10 lead and eventually a 25-17 win, and thus did the Redskins avoid a damaging defeat by the 0-7 Lions.

Make no mistake, there was much frustration on the Washington sideline before Moss worked free for his first TD. The offense was “moving the ball,” Jason Campbell said, “but we weren’t scoring.”

Once again, for the third time in four weeks, the Redskins had failed to find the end zone in the first half. Things were so tense that at one point, Clinton Portis and Jim Zorn started snapping at each other over a misunderstanding about the coach’s substitution policy.

After the third Washington field goal, according to Portis, Moss “came over to me and said, ‘We’ve gotta carry this team. One of us has gotta make a play.’” It turned out to be Santana. On the next possession, he sold the safety on an outside fake and got open deep; Campbell dodged a blitzer, laid the ball up perfectly and the Redskins were ahead 16-10.

But that just provided a little breathing room. The second touchdown was the dagger. Zorn decided to send Moss instead of unproductive Antwaan Randle El back to field a punt, and No. 89 improbably took it all the way.

I say “improbably” because he was almost felled by his own teammate, rookie Devin Thomas, before he even got going. The two smacked into each other right after the catch, and Santana, who’s at least 20 pounds lighter, went flying backward.

“When Devin hit me,” he said, “I was telling myself to go down. I didn’t want to lose any more yardage. But when I [recovered from the] contact, I saw everybody [on the return team] was pretty much lined up.”

So he took off - as only he can - and found (or maybe created) considerable daylight. (Having an Extra Gear many returners don’t have helped, too.)

“Santana’s the spark of our offense,” Chris Cooley said. “As much as anyone might want to be, he’s the game-changer.”

What brought on this outburst? To hear Moss tell it, he was “mad in the first half when I got stopped at the [Detroit 1] and didn’t score. Touchdowns mean a lot. If you can break their will early … But we didn’t score there, and they came back on us.”

Fortunately for the Redskins, Moss was having one of his very best days. Indeed, he was a factor from the opening snap, catching passes on the first two plays and finishing with nine receptions for 140 yards, both game highs. It sure beat that afternoon in Philadelphia, when he got shut out (and had to content himself with throwing downfield blocks).

“Philly and St. Louis just took Santana out of the game,” Campbell said. “But our rushing game has been so efficient lately [that the Lions were forced to pay more attention to Portis]. That gave [Moss] a chance to get open again and make plays.”

Portis still got his yards - 126 of them, giving him five straight games with 120 or more, a franchise record. But he’s a different kind of impact player from Moss. Clinton’s impact - 4 yards here, 6 yards there - is more like an ax chopping down a tree. Santana’s impact, on the other hand, can be so sudden that it almost seems like a nuclear reaction.

The Redskins certainly needed a big game from him Sunday, especially after Chris Samuels had to be scratched in warmups with a balky knee. Moss’ efforts left him with a slightly tweaked hamstring suffered on his final grab, a 20-yarder along the sideline, but other than that he was in good shape.

And so, at the season’s halfway point, were the Redskins. They were 6-2 and only a week away from a much deserved bye. How easily it could have been different, though.

After all, success in the Any Given Sunday League, as Zorn put it, is “very fragile.” It doesn’t take much for a team to start going in the opposite direction. But thanks to Moss, that didn’t happen to the Redskins. He kept them on course, kept them headed toward … who knows what?