- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2006

Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss told quarterback Mark Brunell to keep an eye out for him early in yesterday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It turned out to be the best advice he could have possibly offered.

Moss caught a 68-yard touchdown pass from Brunell in overtime to clinch a 36-30 victory at FedEx Field, the last of Moss’ three scoring plays in the game.

“I said, ‘Just throw the ball up. I’m not saying I’m going to come down with all of them, but give me a chance.’ And that’s what Mark did,” Moss said. “He said, ‘I’ve seen you and I gave you a chance.’ Seconds later, I’m in the end zone.”

The turnaround was seemingly just as rapid for Washington (2-2), which placed itself on the precipice of a disastrous season when it opened with consecutive losses to Minnesota and Dallas.

Two weeks and two victories later, the Redskins are back at .500 with a game at the New York Giants looming next week.

“I’m really proud of our guys for sticking together,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “We know it’s only four games in, but I certainly think it shows what we’re capable of.”

More specifically, it showed what Brunell and Moss are capable of when they can connect with the same frequency they did a year ago, when Moss rolled up 1,483 receiving yards and nine touchdown catches to help Washington reach the playoffs.

They hadn’t combined to do much in the first three weeks of the season. Moss entered yesterday with only 13 catches for 188 yards without a touchdown, and it was clear the Redskins would need to extend the field eventually if they were to enjoy a successful year.

That time arrived yesterday as Moss caught four passes for 138 yards, while Brunell was 18-for-30 for 329 yards and three touchdowns a week after completing an NFL-record 22 consecutive passes. It was an especially strong performance since Brunell missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with a lacerated throwing elbow.

In a game filled with long plays — some aided by shaky tackling — Moss delivered the most electrifying in overtime. He lined up on the left side, slipped past cornerback Brian Williams to make the catch, then sprinted unimpeded to the end zone for the winning score.

Moss’ biggest concern on the play might have been free safety Deon Grant, who had rushed over to take a shot at the tackle. Instead, he whiffed on his sprawling attempt to contain Moss, who was well aware of the danger Grant posed.

“No receiver likes a knockout hit and when I got around that first guy I peeked at him. When I saw him I was like ‘Oooh’ and when I saw the ball I was like ‘Oooh,’” Moss said. “The next thing going through my head was to attack the ball, because if I attacked the ball then I have less of a chance of getting my behind killed. … He missed, and thank God. The next thing I could see was a blur. I just saw myself running.”

It was a frequent theme for Moss, who put the Redskins ahead 7-3 with a serpentine canvassing of the field in the first quarter. He caught a pass on the right side, avoided cornerback Terry Cousin and wound his way across the field with the aid of blockers. He shook off Grant inside the 20 and sauntered into the end zone for a 55-yard score.

While Moss was energizing the Redskins’ passing game, Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts combined to thrive against Jacksonville’s vaunted rush defense. The Redskins were stuffed in their initial attempts to run up the middle against tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud, but found a series of outside pitches to be far more effective at opening opportunities inside later in the game.

Portis finished with 112 yards and a touchdown, while Betts provided 37 yards on 11 carries against a defense that yielded only 177 rushing yards in its first three games.

“We mixed it up. We ran outside and inside,” Portis said. “We wanted to keep them off balance.”

Moss might have been able to do that by himself, and his second touchdown appeared to place the Redskins in position to emerge with a victory in regulation. With Washington facing third-and-goal, Moss caught a slant and faked out Jacksonville linebacker Mike Peterson for an 8-yard score to stretch the lead to 27-17 with 12:24 left.

“If there’s a guy who has been a better playmaker in the NFL, I don’t know who it is,” Gibbs said. “Every time you get the ball in his hands, he’s a threat to go.”

Jacksonville (2-2) responded quickly behind District native Byron Leftwich, who was making his first start in his hometown and threw for 289 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.

Leftwich moved the Jaguars down the field in four plays, capping the drive with a 21-yard dart to Reggie Williams, who happily nodded his head about his first career two-touchdown day despite absorbing a hit from Sean Taylor that knocked his helmet off.

The teams traded field goals to make it 30-27, but Leftwich piloted Jacksonville inside the Redskins 25 in the final minute. After three straight incompletions, the Jaguars settled for a 41-yard field goal from Josh Scobee and overtime.

“Going into overtime I think we knew if we got the ball we were going to score,” tight end Chris Cooley said. “I don’t think anybody on the field had any doubt and we scored quickly. To tell you the truth, I don’t think they thought they were going to stop us. They were tired and we moved the ball right down the field on them.”

Indeed they did. The Redskins worked quickly on the fatigued Jaguars, and appeared to have reached Jacksonville territory when Cooley hauled in a 19-yard pass on the third play from scrimmage. Cooley was ruled to have stepped out of bounds before the catch, but the Redskins simply shrugged off the penalty and returned to the huddle.

When Brunell made his pass to Moss seconds later, it was easy to see why.

“He’s certainly the best after the catch that I’ve played with,” Brunell said. “He’s amazing. He gets it in his hands and is able to do some things. There’s nothing he can’t do.”

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