- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2005

One of these weeks, the Redskins’ opponent is going to realize that, hey, Santana Moss is having a pretty good year; it might be a good idea to, oh, tie him up and throw him in one of the equipment trunks. So far, though, Moss hasn’t had any trouble getting open — short, long, along the sideline, over the middle, in the end zone. You wonder if some teams didn’t miss the memo that the Jets had traded him to Washington for Laveranues Coles.

It would be hard to make a bigger splash than No.89 has in his first six games as a Redskin. In fact, you could make the argument that he’s off to the greatest start of any receiver in franchise history. (By “start,” I don’t mean start to a season. I mean start to a Redskins career.)

This is no small thing. Moss has some serious competition from some serious wideouts. Consider:

Just a couple of years ago, Coles kicked off his Redskins career with three straight 100-yard efforts. Totals after six games: 39 catches, 573 yards, one touchdown. Not bad … as first impressions go.

Then there’s Henry Ellard in ‘94, the season he came over from the Rams in free agency. In his first six games in Washington, he racked up 31 catches for 630 yards and four TDs.

Also in the running is Charlie Brown, who broke in during the Super Bowl year of ‘82 — and gets bonus points for being the only Actual Rookie in the group. Brown’s statistics aren’t as stupendous as those of the others, but he did score in his first five games — six touchdowns in all.

Finally, the gold standard: Bobby Mitchell’s incredible start in ‘62. So you can fully appreciate what Mitchell did, let me just point out that he was playing receiver for the first time in the NFL (after four seasons as a running back for the Browns). He was also the first black player to join the Redskins, so he had that to deal with, too. His numbers through Week 6: 34 receptions, 714 yards, eight TDs.

Moss, amazingly, is right there with him. After reeling off his third consecutive 100-yard game Sunday against the 49ers, he has 38 catches for 743 yards and five scores. And that’s just for openers. There are 10 games still to play.

Who knew this guy was so good? Certainly not the Jets, who got the ball to him only 45 times last year (down from 74 the year before). The Redskins never imagined he’d give them this kind of production either. They figured he’d add some speed to the offense, some quick-strike capability, but his size, Joe Gibbs said yesterday, seemed to be “a drawback.” He was listed at 5-10, 190 pounds, and was likely smaller than that. Could he take the pounding week in and week out? Could he stay on the field (as he sometimes hadn’t in New York)? Or was he destined to provide only occasional fireworks?

Guess we know the answer now. Moss was a Pro Bowler waiting to happen. It’s scary how quickly he and Mark Brunell have meshed. Heck, he even missed some of the offseason work while his new contract was being negotiated — not that it shows. You’d think they’ve been playing catch since they were kids.

“The hardest thing about throwing to Santana is that it’s easy to underthrow him,” Brunell said after the 52-17 trampling of the Niners. “You just have to throw it out there, because when the ball is in the air he’ll really go and get it.”

As Moss did on a second-and-8 play in the first series, a deep route down the right sideline. Cornerback Shawntae Spencer “was running right with him,” Gibbs said. “He was covered. He just made the play. Great hands. Tremendous speed. Add it all up and … we’re thrilled.”

Who can blame them? After all, the Redskins were dealing from a position of weakness when they shopped Coles. They had an unhappy receiver who wanted out, and their options were limited because of his sizable contract and other issues. Settling for Moss appeared to be little more than making the best of a bad situation.

Right now, though, it looks like the fleecing of the year. Not only is Santana leading the league with 743 yards receiving, he’s also outperforming the Other Moss, Randy, who has a mere 22 catches for the Raiders. Santana gives every indication, moreover, of being a Gibbs-type player, one who talks understatedly about being “grateful for the opportunity to make plays.” (Or to put it another way, he’s left the end zone cartwheels to Clinton Portis, his former University of Miami teammate.)

Suddenly, after a year of throwing horizontally, the Redskins are getting the ball downfield — to Moss. Suddenly, things aren’t so claustrophobic at the line of scrimmage for Portis. Suddenly, the Redskins are putting up 52 points in a game — about a month’s work last season.

“Everything is starting to piece together,” Jon Jansen said. And the biggest piece might be the offense’s smallest player.

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