- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2008

Santana Moss is the Washington Redskins’ X factor.

When Moss isn’t in high gear because of injuries or off days as he had at Green Bay or Tampa Bay, defenses approach the Redskins differently.

“They don’t have to sit back in Cover-2 and give the corners help,” Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels said. “They’ll play everybody up in the box, try to double the tight end. They’ll stop our running game, and then our offense is not going to be as a productive.”

Moss caught just 43 passes for 518 yards and two touchdowns in Washington’s first 12 games, two of which he missed with injuries. Included were the poor games against the Packers — he had no catches and two bobbles that led to Green Bay touchdowns — and the Buccaneers — a fumble on the first play. But during the four-game winning streak that propelled the Redskins into Saturday’s wild-card playoff game at Seattle, Moss had 18 catches for 290 yards and two touchdowns.

“We’re a whole lot better offense [when] they have to send two or three guys to stop Santana,” Samuels said. “If you put one on him, he’s going to beat him. He opens a lot of things up for other guys.”

Moss missed time with the heel injury he suffered against the New York Jets on Nov. 4, and that followed the abdominal strain in the spring, the groin injury in training camp and the hamstring injury at Green Bay.

But since his healthy return Nov. 18 against Dallas, Washington’s offensive production has jumped from 316 yards and 17.9 points a game to 356 yards and 22.4 points.

“Early in the year, me and Coach [Joe] Gibbs talked,” Moss said. “He knew I was nicked up a little bit. He was like, ‘We go as far as you go.’ I was upset at myself … but … sometimes you have to get healed. I stayed in the treatment room and made sure I could patch up some of the things that was nicked up and go out there and play my best football. I’m a professional. If I can go out there and be productive regardless of what’s bothering me, I will do that.”

And if Moss — whom cornerback Shawn Springs called “a quick jitterbug” — is right, watch out. During his three years with Washington, Moss has made 24 of the Redskins’ 61 plays of 30 yards or more. He produced four of its eight such plays in December, including touchdowns of 32 yards at Minnesota and 42 against Dallas.

“Santana’s a big-play guy,” Gibbs said. “When we do get plays over 20 [yards], chances are he’s a guy who’s going to get a bunch of them. I don’t know of anybody that is better adjusting to a deep ball. He has GPS. He can find it when other people can’t.

“Santana’s not a big guy, but he plays big.” Gibbs said of Moss, who might not even be as big as his listed 5-foot-10, 200 pounds.

Said fellow starting receiver Antwaan Randle El: “When the ball’s in the air, Santana can get it before the defender. That’s one of the things he has that a lot of receivers don’t. He can up a tick early before the defender no matter how tall the defender is and still come down with the ball. He’ll be like, ‘What happened? Where’d he come from?’ And I love the way he runs the double move. He’ll be running full speed, and it’s like he’s sitting in a chair.”

After a decade on the sidelines, quarterback Todd Collins has found Moss easy to throw to during the past month.

“I just try to get the ball to Santana, put it in the right spot,” Collins said. “He’s a playmaker. He’s one of those guys who can change a game.”

That’s what concerns Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren.

“Santana’s a legitimate deep threat,” Holmgren said. “He’s important to their style of play because you have to commit people to stop the run, [so] sometimes Santana gets in those single coverage situations, and he can usually take advantage of that.”

Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot, who covered Moss for Minnesota last season, knows all about Moss taking advantage of secondaries.

Said Smoot: “Santana’s a speed guy, but unlike a lot of speed guys, he’s good after the cut.”

And good in the playoffs. Going back to his days with the New York Jets, Moss has 26 catches, 339 yards and three touchdowns in six postseason games. Even when the Redskins’ offense was struggling in its two playoff games in 2005, Moss produced 133 yards. The other wideouts combined for just 24. And Moss is almost as hot now as he was heading to Seattle two years ago.

“[My hands are] hot, and I want them to stay hot, too,” Moss said. “When you get opportunities, you don’t want to see them go away.”

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