This was supposed to be the year Santana Moss was eased toward the rocking chair. He had started to play on cruise control in recent seasons, and the Washington Redskins spent a lot of money on younger receivers to give Robert Griffin III an attractive array of targets.
But the 33-year-old vet wasn't going quietly. He rededicated himself, taking less time off in the spring and losing some 15 pounds.
That player who caught both of Griffin's passes against the Giants, including the 30-yard, over-the-shoulder grab at the goal line late in the fourth quarter? That was Moss. Not Pierre Garcon. Not Joshua Morgan. Not Leonard Hankerson.
"Lighter, quicker, faster," Moss said Wednesday. "I can't say I'm back to the old 21-year-old, 22-year-old 'Tana, but a few years ago when I was running like I was running, I feel like I'm that right now."
Moss has four touchdown catches on the season. No one else on the coach Mike Shanahan's roster has more than one. That's noteworthy given that Moss is being used mostly a slot receiver and isn't on the field that much. He played a season-low 17 snaps in the 27-23 loss to the Giants, and his three receptions for 67 yards in that game put him at 19 for 290 for the season.
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Not that he's complaining. In fact, the 2012 version of Moss sounds happier than, say, the 2009 version who had 902 yards for a team that went 4-12.
"So many weeks I went home stressed out, thinking like there's so much on my shoulders because I'm the only guy in the passing game," Moss said. "Way before coach Shanahan got here, it was hard to go out there and put up numbers because everyone's keying on you, and then when they keyed on and you didn't get balls, they wanted you to fuss and be mad about it. And I'm, like, why fuss for something when it's not there?
"Just to sit back now and see we have so many targets and just to be a guy that's included, it's just great to see."
Moss' newfound excitement, like everyone else's, is driven by the arrival of Griffin, whose must-watch skills have made the Redskins (3-4) exciting and competitive again. The Heisman Trophy winner leads the NFL in completion percentage and has a 101.8 rating even though he hasn't established a go-to receiver.
Free agent acquisition Garcon has missed four games with a foot injury and has only eight catches. Morgan, another free agent signing, has 18. Second-year player Hankerson is at 22. Tight end Fred Davis leads the team with 24, but he's done for the season with a ruptured left Achilles tendon. None rank in the NFL's top 50.
Those unspectacular numbers are due, in part, to Griffin's ability to spread the ball around. Also, the Redskins' effective ground game — they're No. 1 in the league in yards rushing — means the rookie doesn't have to throw as much.
Nevertheless, the season has played out in such a way that Moss has gone from potentially expendable to nearly indispensable.
"He's a guy that's seen it all, done it all, and can still do a lot with the abilities that he has," Griffin said. "He can be a security blanket. But, like I've told people, you don't try to force it to guys like him who can make plays. You take it if it's there."
While being active in the offense leads to its share of positive plays, it inevitably also brings about a few negative ones. Moss fumbled away the Redskins' final chance for a game-winning drive against the Giants, losing the ball after a catch over the middle at Washington's 43-yard line with 39 seconds remaining.
Moss said it stinks to be part of such a play, but he's been around long enough to know how to deal with it.
"At the end of the day you have to put that in perspective," he said, "and know that you're going to be in some tough ones, you're going to be up, you're going to be down. It's how you handle it, and I've handed them all."
Moss recently passed 500 catches and 7,000 yards with the Redskins, both ranking fourth all-time for the franchise behind Art Monk, Charley Taylor and Gary Clark. He might not have been around to reach those milestones had he not pushed himself anew to get ready for the season.
"If I hadn't put the extra work in, I probably wouldn't want to be here," he said. "Because I know I wasn't myself the last couple of years, even though I produced well enough the year before. But that wasn't me, that wasn't the body of work I like to put out there."
NOTES: LB London Fletcher, who has never missed a game in his 15-year career, did not practice Wednesday is seeing the team doctor about a sore hamstring and a neurologist about "problem with his balance," according to Shanahan. ... Garcon saw a specialist in North Carolina about his toe injury, and Davis had his Achilles surgery. ... TE Chris Cooley is not only back — the team re-signed him after the injury to Davis — but he also has his old locker, displacing rookie QB Kirk Cousins to the other side of the room. Players often get something in return for making such a sacrifice, but Cousins let Cooley off the hook because the veteran had given him some furniture and other items and helped him move over the summer. "He got me some UGG slippers," Cousins said, "so I'm doing good."
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