Moss’ end-zone celebration following the touchdown that iced Minnesota’s 31-17 win at Lambeau Field is the NFL firestorm du jour, not nearly as much fun as Janet Jackson’s boob or Nicollette Sheridan’s towel and not even as interesting as Horn’s cellphone call, but what can you do? These are days of lowered expectations, especially in the NFC, where two 8-8 teams won playoff games over the weekend.
The Vikings, one of those 8-8 teams, put a beating on the Packers, while the Rams, the other one, edged the Seahawks in Seattle 27-20, the game ending on Seattle’s signature play, a dropped pass, this one in the end zone. This drop, at least, by Bobby Engram, would have been a great catch had it been made. Most Seahawks drops — the count Saturday was five by most estimates — are of the “oh, it hit him in a bad place, right between the numbers” variety.
In the AFC, where the good teams play, the Jets surprised the surprising Chargers in overtime 20-17 and the Colts whipped the Broncos 49-24. The score was misleadingly close in that one: Indianapolis led 35-3 at halftime.
Moss had been the controversy champion of the week leading up to the playoffs because he pouted his way off the field with two seconds remaining in the Vikings’ season-ending loss to Washington, which understandably upset his teammates. The Vikings seemed to find a way to rally around their curious mix of feelings about Moss — he’s a dumbass and a lousy teammate, but he’s also one of the game’s best receivers — and came out flying, jumping to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter.
Moss, predictably, was hearing it from the Green Bay fans, and Fox caught a great shot of him after the field goal that stretched the lead to 17. Moss was standing near the Minnesota bench looking into the crowd before the kickoff, half-smiling as he listened to fans. He put his hand behind his ear and cocked his head in an “I’m trying to hear you” gesture.
Then he walked to the bench, as close as he could get to the crowd, pointed at the scoreboard and yelled — you could read his lips — “Just look at the motherfuckin’ score! Look at the motherfuckin’ scoreboard!”
That’s Moss in a nutshell: Profane, childish and inappropriate. He thinks it’s just playing around, just nothing, but he manages to find a way to overstep the bounds and offend people. Moss doesn’t just say, “Look at the scoreboard,” a common phrase in the harsh-sounding but usually good-natured back-and-forth between sports rivals. He shouts profanities at the customers. Oh, and this was Moss in a nutshell too: It was 17-0 Vikings.
After the game Moss told Fox’s Chris Myers that he was “just having fun with the boys a little bit” and that he meant no harm. When Myers asked him if the brouhaha over his leaving the field last week inspired the Vikings, he said, “Nah, I think you guys blew that up and left it up to my coaching staff and players to answer the questions all week. So, it was a bit of a bumpy road throughout the week, you know, with me walking off the field, but we whipped their ass.”
It all makes sense in a way. As far as Moss is concerned, you do your thing, you have fun, and as long as you win, nothing else matters. Who cares what other people think? Moss is a self-absorbed egomaniac with poor impulse control, but you know, he’s kind of fun to have around.
I hope my kid grows up to be just like Marvin Harrison of the Colts, humble, hardworking and ridiculously gifted. But if everyone were like Marvin Harrison and no one like Randy Moss, the world would be kind of dull. We’d have to spend the next week talking about the Eagles’ blitz schemes, for one thing.
Here’s how Fox’s broadcast crew reacted when Moss beat Packers corner Al Harris, inexplicably playing off him on a first-and-10 from the Green Bay 34 after totally neutralizing him by playing close since an ankle sprain had slowed Moss down earlier in the game.
Cris Collinsworth: Oh, Al Harris playing off, bit up on the route, and Randy Moss, without even really being able to run, as he shoots the moon to the fans here in Green Bay —
Joe Buck: That is a disgusting act by Randy Moss, and it’s unfortunate that we had that on our air live. That is disgusting by Randy Moss.
Troy Aikman: Well, let’s get back to the play. Randy Moss, I don’t even think that was called in the huddle …
Nice job by Aikman. By the time Fox went to commercial, Buck had downgraded Moss’ act from “disgusting” to “classless.” Fox refused to show a replay of the pretend mooning, and there was further tut-tutting after the game by the studio crew, James Brown, Howie Long, Jimmy Johnson and Terry Bradshaw. Long looked like he might cry. Fox did replay the mooning on the postgame show. ESPN took the high road — Ha-ha! That was a funny phrase to type — and refused to air it.
What’s the over-under on how many times Fox and ESPN will show that moment before kickoff of the Vikings-Eagles game next week? If only Terrell Owens, who is a model of comportment compared to Moss, weren’t injured. Then we could really have some chatterers getting on their high horses.
The Rams’ win over the Seahawks was about as entertaining as a playoff game between two lousy teams can be, St. Louis winning it on a touchdown pass from Mark Bulger to tight end Cam Cleeland with 2:20 remaining. The Seahawks had rallied from a 14-3 deficit to take the lead early in the fourth quarter, but the dropped passes, penalties and other mistakes caught up with them and the Rams scored the last 10 points. St. Louis will play the Falcons in Atlanta next week.
One thing that made the game amusing was listening to the ABC announcers, the ESPN Sunday night team, rhapsodizing about the Rams’ explosive offense. Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann and Paul Maguire could not stop talking about how dangerous the Rams are, how they almost can’t be defended. At one point Patrick called the Rams’ passing game “the most exquisitely designed” such attack in the league.
Apparently these fellows have never heard of the Colts, not to mention the Vikings and Chiefs. Do the Packers strike you as an explosive, can’t-be-stopped offense? Like the other three just named, they scored more points, passed for more yards and got more first downs than the Rams, who were sixth in the league in yards, fifth in passing yards, eighth in first downs and 19th in points. Exquisite!
The Football Outsiders Web site ranks teams on more sophisticated metrics than yards gained, which can be piled up against defenses sitting on a lead, or points, which can be set up or scored by the defense or special teams. That system ranks the Rams as the 12th best offense in the league, just ahead of the Seahawks. Explosive! The Rams threw for 292 yards, the Seahawks threw for 332.
The Colts showed what a truly explosive offense looks like, abusing the Broncos on their way to an easy win. Because the Broncos can get pressure on the quarterback without blitzing and they have good cover guys in the secondary, they match up pretty well with the Colts. And they still looked like a junior varsity. Peyton Manning threw for 360 yards and three touchdowns.
And then he had a nice long drink of water because it was only halftime. He ended up with 457 yards on 27-of-33 passing, four TDs and an interception. He even scored a rushing touchdown on a quarterback sneak. Reggie Wayne caught 10 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns.
The Broncos deserved to lose as badly as they did. Denver’s defensive backs spent the week talking about how the Colts receivers were “soft,” but when push came to shove, it was the Broncos who were soft. They lost the game in the first quarter when they showed an astonishing lack of guts.
The teams had traded punts on their first possessions, and then Manning led the Colts on a nine-play, 76-yard drive for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. After the kickoff and three plays, the Broncos faced a fourth-and-1 from their own 41-yard line with just under six minutes to go in the first quarter. Coach Mike Shanahan sent in the punting unit, and that was the ballgame. Really. It was over right there.
What, you’re going to play a field-position game with the Indianapolis Colts? That’s crazy. If you’re going to beat the Colts you have to make big plays on defense and score, score, score. You’re not going to do it by playing it safe. You’re going to have to gamble a bit. And it’s hardly a huge gamble to go for it on fourth-and-1. The downside is bad, giving Manning the ball in your territory, but the chances of success are pretty decent, a lot better than the chances of anything good happening from that punt.
The Colts took over on their 13 after the punt and marched 87 yards on eight plays. Touchdown, 14-0 and the rout was on. So much for that field-position game and not giving Manning the ball at the Denver 41. After a trade of interceptions and a Denver punt, the Colts scored another touchdown before the Broncos finally put together a drive that resulted in a field goal and a 21-3 score midway through the second quarter.
Now, Shanahan was in a gambling mood. He called for an onside kick, which the Colts recovered.
Typical NFL coach: When the game’s still in reach and a gamble might do him some good he’s as conservative as a gray flannel suit. Once it’s a hopeless cause and there’s little to lose it’s come on, dice, daddy needs some brand-new shoes! Pathetic.
The Colts go to Foxboro, Mass., next week to play their nemeses, the New England Patriots. The other game will be the Pittsburgh Steelers hosting the Jets, who booted away a victory against the Chargers in regulation Saturday, then lucked out to win in overtime.
The Chargers were the league’s annual great-turnaround story, going 12-4 one year after they’d gone 4-12 and “earned” the first draft pick. That pick, Eli Manning, announced in no uncertain terms that he’d never play for San Diego, and when the Chargers drafted him, he looked like he was going to throw up as he held up a jersey. It had to be one of the all-time lows for a franchise that’s had its share of lows.
In short order Manning was traded to the Giants for another rookie quarterback, fourth pick Philip Rivers, and a passel of draft picks, and the Chargers went on to have a great season behind quarterback Drew Brees, who surprisingly came into his own.
They couldn’t seem to get it together Saturday against the Jets, who were playing much better than they had in months, and went into the fourth quarter trailing 17-7. But at that point Brees had already started them on a pass-heavy drive that would stall at the New York 23. A field goal made it 17-10 with 10:48 to go.
The Jets then used nearly six minutes in plodding through the mud to the Chargers 33, where they faced a fourth-and-4. A 50-yard field goal was too much to ask in the sloppy conditions, so the Jets punted, a touchback giving the Chargers the ball on the 20. Brees took over and marched his team inside the 10, but they faced a fourth-and-goal at the 2 with less than half a minute left.
The fourth-down play broke down and Brees, under a pass rush, heaved a desperation pass toward the end zone that fell incomplete. Jets ball, game over. Except that linebacker Eric Barton had roughed Brees, chopping him in the head with his right forearm after Brees had let the ball go. The boneheaded penalty gave the Chargers a first down, and Brees hit Antonio Gates for the tying touchdown on the next play.
In overtime the teams each punted once, and then the Chargers drove from their 30 to the Jets 22, but rookie kicker Nate Kaeding missed a 40-yard field goal, just honked it despite a perfect snap and hold and little rush. If Eric Barton was an atheist Friday, he’s a believer today. The Jets, given new life, went 60 yards on eight plays and won it on a chip-shot field goal by Doug Brien.
And of course you’re way ahead of me about rookie kicker Nate Kaeding: The Chargers took him with one of the draft picks they’d gotten from the Giants for Eli Manning.
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