- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2005

If one play can change a season, then two plays can change a career.

Santana Moss came to Washington from the New York Jets in March with a reputation as a speedy but inconsistent receiver. The Redskins had acquired Moss for the more proven Laveranues Coles, and the trade had not opened up the passing game.

Then came those two plays in the last four minutes in Week 2 at Dallas.

Trailing 13-0 and facing fourth-and-15 at the Dallas 39, Moss got free of cornerback Aaron Glenn and safety Roy Williams on a combination of inside and outside moves for the touchdown from Mark Brunell that closed the gap to 13-7. And on the second play after Washington got the ball back, Moss blew past the secondary on a post pattern and hauled in a 70-yard bomb from Brunell in stride for the game-winning touchdown.

In just 71 seconds, the Redskins had ended a decade of defeat in Dallas, showed the somnolent offense could hit big plays for touchdowns, resurrected Brunell’s career and jump-started Moss’.

“That game helped me so much coming to a new city with a lot of expectations to really get off on the right foot,” Moss said. “People had that little if in their heads: ‘Do you think he can do that?’ That game gave that sense of, ‘This is what he can do.’”

Or as Brunell put it, “It was kind of a coming out party for Santana.”

Prior to the trade Moss had never caught more than 74 passes in any of his four seasons and had averaged just 49.7 catches the previous three years. Coles had averaged 87 catches in the same three seasons.

Moss had just five catches in the preseason and four more (albeit one for 52 yards) in the season opener against Chicago as the Redskins won without a touchdown. Until the two touchdowns late in the Dallas game, Moss had just three more catches for 50 yards.

The Redskins, who had only acquired Moss because Coles wanted out, were hopeful he could make the kind of an impact he did against Dallas. But they weren’t really sure until those two touchdowns made the 5-foot-10, 190-pound former champion sprinter “Santana the Cowboys-slayer.”

“The game in everybody else’s eyes was over,” Moss said. “We needed to get something to swing our way. They thought they had the game wrapped up or something and we capitalized.”

An anonymous fan sent Moss two dozen red and yellow roses in celebration of just Washington’s second victory in its last 16 meetings with archrival Dallas. Suddenly, an offense that since coach Joe Gibbs’ return seemingly couldn’t hit a big play if the defenders fell down had to be respected downfield. That in turn created more room for Clinton Portis and the running game and freed the defense from constantly being on the field.

“It opened up our offense … that just lifted us up,” middle linebacker Lemar Marshall said.

Washington dealt Seattle its only NFC loss the next game en route to a 5-2 start during which Moss was responsible for 10 plays of at least 30 yards. That’s as many plays of that length that the Redskins had made in all of 2004.

“We couldn’t buy a deep ball last year and what those two plays did for us was give us two big ones in a crucial game,” Gibbs said. “Since then we’ve been much more productive. As much as anything, it was confidence for us. Certainly Santana made a real statement in that game and he continued it with every game. When we make big plays, it’s almost like Santana makes big plays.”

Those big plays have been much harder to come by since No.2 receiver David Patten was lost for the year before the Oakland game on Nov.20 and No.3 receiver James Thrash was hurt against the Raiders.

But Moss is still enough of a presence that defenses have to focus on him, which had diverted their attention from stopping Portis.

Despite the paucity of big plays of late, Moss leads the league in third-down catches. And he still has 1,167 yards, second in the NFL, and 73 catches, tied for sixth. Only five Redskins — Charlie Brown (1983), Art Monk (1984, 1985, 1989), Gary Clark (1986, 1989), Henry Ellard (1994) and Coles (2003) — have ever had more catches and yards in the same season than Moss, and he still has three games to go.

And at 26, plenty of football — and big plays — ahead of him.

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