After a slow start, Jets WR Santana Moss is looking to be a big part of the Jets playoff push. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
After Jets WR Santana Moss had an outstanding 2003 season earning team MVP honors, Jets fans were expecting big things in 2004 from the fourth year pro. But a hamstring injury bothered Moss most of training camp and slowed his progress this season.
Last Sunday against Buffalo, Moss finally had a breakout game, catching six passes for 157 yards and a touchdown. Jets fans hope it will get Moss on the right track for the rest of the year.
Moss was selected by the Jets with the 16th overall pick in the 2001 draft after a solid career at the University of Miami, where he set the all-time record with 2,546 receiving yards. As a senior, Moss was an All-Big East Conference first-team selection and became the first player to earn Big East Offensive and Special Teams Player of the Year honors in the same season. Moss competed on the Miami track team as well and captured both the triple jump and the long jump at the 2000 Big East Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
There were high hopes for Moss in his rookie season as a Jet but unfortunately they were dashed when he tore cartilage in his left knee during training camp and was inactive for 11 games. He did come back after surgery to play in five games and finished the season with two catches for 40 yards and six punt returns for 82 yards.
In 2002, Moss played in 15 games while learning from WR Laverneus Coles and WR Wayne Chrebet. Moss had 30 receptions and was third on the team with 433 yards and four touchdowns. Moss was the main punt returner and led the AFC with a 16.5 average on 25 punt returns, including two touchdowns. Moss became only the third player in NFL history to return punts for a TD in consecutive weeks when he returned a punt 63 yards against Cleveland on October 27 and a punt 52 yards against San Diego on November 3.
Moss knew his opportunity would come and was ready to take advantage of it.
“You just have to capitalize when your opportunity comes,” Moss said. “That is how I look at it. I played on a team in high school where I barely got a catch a game. I have been humble at an early stage, that is why it doesn’t get to me.”
With Coles signing with Washington, Moss became the go-to guy last year and there were high expectations. Moss lived up to the hype and was voted by his teammates as the team MVP after finishing the season with 74 catches for 1,105 yards and 10 TD. His 1,105 receiving yards were fifth in the AFC. Moss scored a receiving TD in a club-record seven consecutive games. Moss had four 100+ receiving games including a season-best six catches for 146 yards and a touchdown on November 9 at Oakland. Moss showed that what he lacked in height, he made up for in speed. Moss had an 11.5 average on 30 punt returns but no touchdowns. Moss says getting so many looks improved his game.
“I came out and I did what I wanted to do,” Moss said. “I had a chance to go one-on-one with guys, and a chance to go with two guys and three guys. It makes you a better player. I appreciate it. I see it a lot now in practice and its building me up to be what I want to be: a good receiver. The more looks I get, that’s how I’m going to get better. If you don’t get those looks, then you never know how it is until you play with that kind of experience.”
In the off-season, the Jets got rid of the underachieving veteran WR Curtis Conway and acquired WR Justin McCareins in a trade with Tennessee. Moss talked about having depth at WR.
“Now that I know that they have another guy they have to pay attention to and have another guy back in the slot, Wayne (Chrebet),” Moss said. “It just might make it a lot easier for me to get open and get more one-on-ones. But if not, early they are still going to come at me, double me and try and take me out of the game. But those guys are going to take their chances. I’ll free them up then when it’s my time, they will free me up.”
This season, Moss has caught 20 passes for a team-leading 447 yards and a TD. In the season opener against Cincinnati, Moss had four receptions for 55 yards. The following week in the Jets win over San Diego, Moss made what Offensive Coordinator Paul Hackett described as “his best catch as a Jet” when he caught a 48 yard pass from Pennington in the fourth quarter with the Jets holding a six-point lead. Moss beat CB Quentin Jammer down the sideline and altered his gait, fending off the aggressive CB, while still drawing a pass interference flag on the play. Moss caught the pass and was pushed out of bounds at the SD 3, setting up a QB Chad Pennington to TE Chris Baker TD two plays later and giving the Jets a 13-point lead with just under four minutes to go. On the day, Moss caught four passes for 97 yards. The Dolphins contained Moss the following week, holding him to one catch for 17 yards. In the Jets comeback win over Buffalo on October 10, Moss had two catches for 62 yards and two punt returns for 39 yards. In the game, Moss injured his hamstring and was inactive the following week against San Francisco. Moss played the next week as the Jets suffered their first loss of the year against New England and had two receptions for 12 yards. In the Jets 41-14 blowout of Miami on November 1, Moss had one catch for 47 yards and four punt returns for -4 yards.
While Moss wants to put up big numbers like every WR, what separates him from players like Keyshawn Johnson or Terrell Owens is Moss is a team-first player.
“It’s almost the same as in college-a lot of weapons, everybody is getting used,” Moss said. “People look at it as, “are you mad (because you haven’t had a lot of passes thrown your way)?’ Nope, because you know it is going to come. And you know that the only way it can come to you is by everybody working together to get pressure off of certain guys and that is the best way you want it.”
Moss said there is always room for improvement.
“If you want to be a great player like Jerry Rice or some of those other guys who have done it,” Moss said. “I am pretty sure they knew they weren’t at their best every week. They weren’t at their best every year. I’m pretty sure Jerry Rice will tell you to this day there is something still he wants to work on to make him better. That is what great players do and that is what people who are trying to be great do. There is always something you need to do to get better. There is always something that people might think you are the best at that deep down inside, you know you still have more room to improve.”
Moss will now have to work on getting timing down with QB Quincy Carter, who will start while Pennington is out with a strained right rotator cuff.
Moss has gained confidence throughout his NFL career.
“I just build off of it every year,” Moss said. “That is how I have been in the past. I always stick to the same regimen. I have never really changed. I almost just get better in my work ethics and do things that I know I needed to do. I work on what I didn’t do or things I see myself not being so good at. Confidence is the key in this life. Confidence plays a big role in this sport.”
Jets Head Coach Herman Edwards has seen the improvement in Moss and has seen him learn how to control his speed.
“He knows how to play fast now too because he knows what to do,” Edwards said. “He was a fast guy coming out because he never really played fast early because he was just trying to figure out what to do. I think now he knows how to play fast. He knows when he has to run fast. He knows when he has to set a guy up with his feet. In his mind, he feels he can just get better and that is what he needs to do. He needs to get better for us because he is a guy who can obviously make big plays; there is no doubt about it.”
Moss has set high goals for himself.
“I want to be one of the best receivers in the game,” Moss said. “I want to be one of the best punt returners in the game. I want to help this team win the Championship.”
If Moss is going to achieve those goals, he will have to continue to have big games the remainder of the season.