- The Washington Times - Monday, October 3, 2005

The Redskins waited all last season for somebody to make a play on offense — any kind of play. It wouldn’t have taken much. Week after week, they lost games that were there for the taking — seven of them by a touchdown or less. You could blame it on the scheme, blame it on the quarterback, blame it on a lot of things, but the bottom line was: When the going got tough, the offense rarely had the stuff.

All that has changed this year — so far. Ulcer-causing defeats have been replaced by exhilarating victories, the last two because of the efforts of Joe Gibbs’ new go-to guy, Santana Moss. In Dallas, Moss bushwhacked the Cowboys with a pair of improbable touchdown catches in the last few minutes, and yesterday at FedEx Field he had a 30-yard grab in overtime to help the Redskins beat the Seahawks 20-17, climbing to 3-0 for the first time since ‘91.

Suddenly, Moss — a Redskin only since March, when he was acquired from the Jets in the Laveranues Coles Unloading — has morphed into Art Monk at crunch time. Suddenly, he’s coming through with the key third-down conversions Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders were famous for, way back when. (He even reminds you of Gary and Ricky — small, swift and lethal.)

It’s been too long since the Redskins had a receiver like that. Michael Westbrook had the physical tools but was missing something inside. Coles had enough heart for two men but lacked Santana’s deep speed. Henry Ellard’s best season (1994), meanwhile, was for a club that won just three games, limiting his opportunities for heroism.

Besides, Henry was well into his 30s by then. Moss, just 26, has his best years ahead of him, as they say. It should be fun watching him flit around the field, driving defensive backs to distraction.

“When you play so many close games,” a wrung-out Gibbs said, “a couple of great plays can bail you out.”

And Moss right now is supplying them. The two long TDs in Dallas will be talked about forever, but his two receptions in OT against the Seahawks might have just as much of an impact on the Redskins’ season. The first came on a third-and-10 at the Washington 23 when he worked himself free for a 13-yard gain. Then, in the same situation at the Seattle 45, he got open down the sideline, cut back to the middle of the field and ran all the way to the 15 — close enough for Nick Novak to boot the 39-yard game-winner.

“He got the ball and made something happen,” Mark Brunell said of the second catch. “That’s what the great ones do.”

We’ll hold off on any discussion of Moss’ greatness — plenty of time for that. Better, at this point, to focus on the rather large effect he has had on the Redskins offense. Yesterday, for one of the rare times since Coach Joe returned to the sideline, the unit made first downs — consistently — and retained possession for extended periods. In other words, it played Gibbs Ball.

Most telling was the Redskins’ phenomenal 13-of-18 conversion rate on third down (15-for-20, counting two penalties). And these weren’t just any third downs, either. Nine times the Redskins converted when they needed seven or more yards. And get this: All six of Moss’ catches went for first downs, five of them on third down. Talk about a difference-maker.

“In overtime,” Moss said, “I remember our receivers coach [Stan Hixon] said to me, ‘Let’s go. We’re going to give you the chance [to win the game].’ I’m just glad to be a part of this team and have an opportunity to make those plays.”

He figures to have the opportunity to make plenty more. The Redskins, it’s clear, are going to have a hard time blowing anyone out. They’ve won their first three by two (9-7), one (14-13) and three points (in OT). And Moss, as you’ve surely noticed, has had at least one reception of 30 or more yards in each game — five in all.

The Seahawks wisely kept a close eye him — and in the second half did a great job of keeping the ball away from him. Moss didn’t catch a pass in the third or fourth quarters; indeed, Brunell threw in his direction only once (and that was under a heavy rush). At one point, the Redskins sent Santana back to return a punt … just to get him more involved.

The Seahawks’ preoccupation with No. 89 created openings for other people, though — Chris Cooley, James Thrash, Clinton Portis. And the result was that the Redskins drove into Seattle territory on every possession in the first three quarters (except for the one-play kneeldown at the end of the first half). Who would have believed, given the difficulties making first downs in the first two games?

“It’s a process,” Brunell said. “What you saw today was improvement.”

What you saw, more than anything, was Santana Moss winning another game for the Redskins.

Which reminds me: One season in the 1980s, Gibbs got the ball to Monk 106 times. Wonder if he can do that with Moss. You know he wants to.



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