Wednesday, October 4, 2006

When the offense sputtered in two losses and then the game plan called for almost exclusively short passes in the third game, Santana Moss didn’t whine about his lack of touches, didn’t blame the coaching staff for a flawed strategy and didn’t call for a quarterback change.

Moss, the Washington Redskins’ Pro Bowl receiver, is used to waiting his turn while waiting for an offense to take shape. He did it in high school, at the University of Miami and with the New York Jets.

“I’ve been patient since Day One,” he said. “It started when my mom wouldn’t let me play football until I was 12 years old. That appreciation has carried over. I’ve been through so many things that now, when something happens, I can say, ‘I’ve seen this before.’

“I think back to those years and I try to take every opportunity I can get because the chances don’t come too often. Last year, I had plenty of chances. This year, guys like Antwaan Randle El, Brandon Lloyd and Chris Cooley — I don’t know when I’ll get the ball again.”

In the Redskins’ first three games, Moss had 13 catches for 188 yards, no touchdowns and only one Santana-like play — a 37-yard reception against Minnesota.

But Sunday against Jacksonville, the chances Moss covets reappeared, and like he’s done during his entire 20-game tenure with the Redskins, he made them count. Moss finished with four catches for 138 yards and three touchdowns, including a 68-yard catch and run that gave the Redskins a 36-30 overtime victory.

The game was another example of Moss being extraordinary. He made catches in traffic. He had a lot of yards after the catch. He broke tackles. He read his blocks and changed direction downfield.

“You want to get it in his hands, whether it’s downfield or on short passes,” quarterback Mark Brunell said. “We’re trying to use him as much as we possibly can because when we get it to him, he’s unbelievable.”

Last year, Moss’ breakout game ignited a playoff drive and his finest season. Down 13-0 at Dallas, Moss caught fourth-quarter touchdown passes of 39 and 70 yards. He ended the season with 84 catches and nine touchdowns.

This year, the Redskins hope Moss’ breakout game has a similar impact, starting Sunday at the New York Giants.

“I don’t like to talk about that until it’s done because we have a lot more games left,” Moss said. “But hopefully it will do something for us. Beyond those plays, we made so many other plays in the game that showed this offense will be all right as we continue to make strides.”

Regardless of whether it has ripple effects, Moss’ game on Sunday definitely ranks among his best as a pro and two of the three touchdowns — a 55-yarder in the first quarter and the game-winner early in overtime — are part of the Moss highlight reel.

“It’s almost as big as the Dallas game,” running back Clinton Portis said. “The only thing about that game is we didn’t have anything going — no spark, no fire, no points, just a bunch of guys fighting — and he comes and scores two amazing touchdowns to beat Dallas. That’s probably at the top of the charts, but this game is right behind it. For him to explode the way he did in overtime and come up with that catch, stay in bounds, push off a defender and then I knew they weren’t going to catch him in a foot race.”

Since coming to the Redskins, Moss has 12 touchdowns in 20 games. He had 19 in 51 games with the Jets. Has he joined the NFL’s elite?

Sidestepping any comparisons, coach Joe Gibbs said: “Phenomenal downfield skills, great long-ball reaction, a really good runner with the ball and somebody who makes play after play after play.”

The desire Moss displays every week — diving for passes, throwing blocks for running backs and fellow receivers, running through tackles — developed when his mom finally let him play football in 1991.

“It was crazy because she was afraid I would get hurt playing football but I was out there breaking my arm doing back flips off the roof,” he said. “But she wanted me to be ready. … My hunger for every catch started in high school. I barely got the ball some games and I would go back to the school and people would say, ‘Man, you were wide open.’ And I was like, ‘Nah, I [was] just running the guy off.’ That made me hungry because he saw the potential and he let know that when I did get my opportunity and I messed up, I might not get another one.”

Moss has used that experience this season. He is no longer the Redskins’ lone downfield threat. Last year, the passing game ran through him and Cooley — they combined for 55.8 percent of the team’s receptions, 67.5 percent of the yards and 64 percent of the receiving touchdowns. Both have had to adapt not only to a new passing system but the new players.

But in the same game where Cooley was re-established (70 yards receiving), Moss made his first 2006 splash.

“He’s something to see,” linebacker Marcus Washington said. “He’s a little guy but he plays so big. Everybody realized last year in Dallas he was a playmaker. We’ve been waiting for it this year and it came at just the right time.”

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