Santana Moss came to Washington from the New York Jets in March with a reputation as a speedy but inconsistent receiver. The Redskins had acquired Moss for the more proven Laveranues Coles, who had averaged 87 catches the previous three seasons. Moss had never caught more than 75 passes in any of his four seasons and had averaged just 49 catches the previous three years.
Moss had just five catches in the preseason and four more (albeit one for 52 yards) in the season opener against Chicago as the Redskins won without scoring a touchdown. And with less than four minutes left in Week 2 at Dallas, Moss had just three more catches for 50 yards.
With Washington trailing 13-0 and facing fourth-and-15 at the Dallas 39, Moss got free of cornerback Aaron Glenn and safety Roy Williams on a combination of inside and outside moves to catch a touchdown pass from Mark Brunell that closed the gap to 13-7. And on the second play after Washington got the ball back, Moss blew past the secondary on a post pattern and hauled in a 70-yard bomb from Brunell in stride for the game-winning touchdown.
In just 71 seconds, the Redskins had ended a decade of defeat in Dallas, showed that the somnolent offense could hit big plays for touchdowns, resurrected Brunell's career and jump-started that of Moss.
"That game helped me so much, coming to a new city with a lot of expectations, to really get off on the right foot," Moss said. "People had that little 'if' in their heads: 'Do you think he can do that?' That game gave that sense of, 'This is what he can do.'"
Or as Brunell put it, "It was kind of a coming-out party for Santana."
The Redskins, who had only acquired Moss because Coles wanted out, were hopeful that he could make that kind of an impact. But they weren't really sure until those two touchdowns made the 5-foot-10, 190-pound former champion sprinter into "Santana the Cowboys slayer."
"We couldn't buy a deep ball last year, and what those two plays did for us was give us two big ones in a crucial game," coach Joe Gibbs said. "Since then, we've been much more productive. As much as anything, it was confidence for us. Certainly Santana made a real statement in that game, and he continued it with every game. When we make big plays, it's almost like Santana makes big plays."
Those big plays have been much harder to come by since No. 2 receiver David Patten was lost for the year before the Oakland game on Nov. 20, and No. 3 receiver James Thrash was hurt against the Raiders. But Moss is still enough of a presence that defenses have to focus on him, which diverts their attention from stopping running back Clinton Portis.
Despite the paucity of big plays of late, Moss leads the league in third-down catches heading into Sunday's rematch with Dallas. And he still has 1,167 yards, second in the NFL, and 73 catches, tied for sixth.
Only five Redskins -- Charlie Brown (1983), Art Monk (1984, 1985, 1989), Gary Clark (1986, 1989), Henry Ellard (1994) and Coles (2003) -- have ever had more catches and yards in the same season than Moss, and he still has three games to go. And at 26, there is plenty of football -- and big plays -- ahead of him.
--CB Shawn Springs didn't practice again Thursday because of the back and groin injuries that knocked him out of the second half of last Sunday's game at Arizona. However, Springs said he will start this week against Dallas.
--CB Carlos Rogers didn't practice again Thursday because of the left biceps he injured against the Cardinals. Rogers maintains that he'll play on Sunday.
--CB Walt Harris, who missed the Arizona game, didn't practice again Thursday, but plans to be ready for Sunday.
--DE Renaldo Wynn rested his sore hamstring for a second straight day Thursday but said he'll start his team-high 62nd straight game on Sunday.
--T Chris Samuels, who sprained his right knee and right ankle against the Cardinals, returned to practice Thursday and will start against the Cowboys.
--S Matt Bowen, who bruised a knee against Arizona, returned to practice Thursday and should play on Sunday.
--WR Santana Moss returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday with a sore hamstring. He will start against the Cowboys.