Saturday, December 24, 2005

By Ryan O’Halloran, David Elfin, Mark Zuckerman and Jon Siegel

The Santana Moss who made life miserable for opposing defenses early in the season is making a comeback at just the right time.

Moss helped keep the Washington Redskins in control of their playoff fate yesterday by tying a career high with three touchdown catches in a 35-20 win over the New York Giants.

Moss, who had five touchdowns in the first six games, entered the contest with only one touchdown in the last eight as teams centered their defensive game plans to stop him.

But Moss broke free against the Giants with touchdowns of 17, 59 and 72 yards. He had five catches for 160 yards, giving him 1,400 yards for the season, 36 behind Bobby Mitchell’s record in 1963.

“We always try to get it to him, and he’s a major portion of our game plan,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “He had only two catches last week [for 73 yards], but they were big plays. He’s one of the keys for us, and we work hard to get him the ball.”

Moss’ first touchdown gave the Redskins a 7-0 lead and came on a 17-yard receiver screen, the same play he turned into a 78-yard score against Kansas City.

“That’s been my favorite play since I got here — I tell the coaches to keep dialing that one up,” Moss said. “The quick screen is a nice throw, and I got some good blocking. I stumbled a couple times and then dove to make sure I got in there.”

The Redskins trailed 10-7 before Moss’ 59-yard score late in the first quarter. His final touchdown came on Patrick Ramsey’s first series and extended the Redskins’ lead to 28-17.

“That was big for Patrick and big for all of us,” Moss said. “You want a guy to come in and have confidence that we’re out there with him. I wanted to make every play for him I could to elevate his game.”

Triple-threat Portis

Clinton Portis ran for 100 yards for the fourth straight game, setting a Redskins record with his eighth 100-yard game of the year and moving within 28 yards of Stephen Davis’ team season mark of 1,432.

“You can pick your poison,” Portis said. “You can either let Santana [Moss] and [Chris] Cooley kill you, or you can let me grind it out. Early on, the Giants were focused on taking away the run, and they were overloading the backside. But after Santana kept making the plays he was making, there was no way they wanted to leave [cornerback] Will Allen out there by himself anymore. We eventually wore the defense down with the running game.”

Guard Ray Brown said Portis is as good as any runner he has blocked for in his 20 seasons.

“Clinton’s one of the top running backs in this league,” Brown said. “You’re going to have some ugly 2-yard runs in this league, but you just have to be persistent. I love the emotion he brings to the game.”

Portis, whose only catch was for a first down on a third-and-9 play, also threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Cooley that made it 21-10.

“I came off my block, and the ball was about 100 feet in the air,” Cooley said, laughing. “But it came down right in my hands. The Giants definitely didn’t see that pass coming. I waited until everyone came up into the box until I released into the corner. Clinton sold it well, too.”

Record-setter Cooley

H-back Chris Cooley set a Redskins season record for catches by a tight end or H-back in just his second season. He had five catches, giving him 69 — two more than the late Jerry Smith caught in 1967.

“It’s awesome,” Cooley said. “Thanks to the coaches for calling the plays and to all my teammates.”

Cooley’s touchdown catch was his seventh, the most by a Washington tight end or H-back since Smith had nine in 1970.

Old Man Ray

Ray Brown, at 43 the NFL’s oldest lineman since the 1920s, held his own while starting for injured right guard Randy Thomas.

“I felt good,” Brown said. “I’m just like any other 40-year-old guy in the rec league. There are some things I can do on the football field even at 43. I’m really comfortable in my skin. I don’t look at myself as a freak. I know it’s a story about me playing at 43, but it’s no big deal.”

Right tackle Jon Jansen said he missed Thomas as a person and a player but raved about his new right-side partner.

“I was really excited to have Ray step in,” Jansen said. “We didn’t miss a beat. That’s a tribute to Ray. He’s still great at 43.”

Wynn-ing play

Renaldo Wynn picked a good time to record the first blocked field goal of his career.

With the Redskins clinging to a 21-17 lead in the third quarter, Wynn got pressure up the middle on Jay Feely’s 30-yard attempt, stuck his hand up and deflected the kick.

Teammate Walt Harris recovered the ball at the 12-yard line, and Washington’s offense proceeded to march back down the field and secure the victory.

Wynn, a nine-year veteran, gave the credit to special teams coach Danny Smith for spotting a weakness in the Giants’ blocking scheme.

“Danny did a great job preparing us,” Wynn said. “He goes in there and studies the film, comes up with a game plan and tells us where the weak spot is. And sure enough, we moved over one man, it came free and we were able to get the penetration.”

A scary moment

Giants middle linebacker Chase Blackburn was taken off the field by stretcher with a neck strain after tackling Chris Cooley in the third quarter. There was no further update following the game.

“The procedure that was followed on the field was of protocol nature and very, very precautionary,” said New York coach Tom Coughlin, who went on the field to check on the injury. “He was squeezing my hands and was moving his leg around.”

Blackburn, a rookie out of Akron, had scored his first NFL touchdown in the first quarter after picking off Mark Brunell and returning it 31 yards to give the Giants a 10-7 lead.

Arrington returns

Linebacker LaVar Arrington, who had missed the past two games with a bruised thigh, returned to the starting lineup and made six tackles, second on the team.

“I help up pretty well,” Arrington said. “It was good to be back out there.”

Third receiver James Thrash, who had been out four weeks with a pulled hamstring, also returned but didn’t catch a pass.

Clemons injures knee

Besides Mark Brunell, the only other reported injury was a sprained MCL by Chris Clemons, who was hurt on a kickoff return. He did not return and had a knee brace on after the game.

“It’s hurting pretty good right now,” said Clemons, who added he hasn’t had this type of knee injury before.

The Redskins played their second consecutive game without cornerback Carlos Rogers (torn biceps muscle) and safety Matt Bowen (knee bruise). Also inactive were running back Nehemiah Broughton, linebacker Robert McCune, defensive tackle Ryan Boschetti, receiver Jimmy Farris and defensive lineman Aki Jones.

Injured right guard Randy Thomas served as one of the Redskins captains, hobbling out to midfield on crutches for the coin toss.

As expected, the Giants were without linebackers Antonio Pierce and Carlos Emmons, defensive tackle William Joseph and right tackle Kareem McKenzie.

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