The San Francisco 49ers’ 30-22 win at Green Bay brought about several firsts. It was the 49ers’ first win of the season (#analysis). It was San Francisco’s first win at Lambeau Field in 22 years. It was also Randy Moss’ first game since the 2010 season. Moss’ first catch was a 20-yard pass to the left by Alex Smith. His next grab was a 14-yard touchdown, which brought about the first time anyone in a 49ers uniform has ever “Mossed” — that is, with one’s arms outstretched at shoulder-level, bend both arms simultaneously toward one’s back, pointing at the name on the back of the jersey with both thumbs.
The Lambeau crowd was silenced, and probably disgusted as well (thank you, Joe Buck). 49ers fans were hooked. Forget the worries about Braylon 2.0; after a training camp full of questions and skepticism, the addition of Moss looked like a masterstroke.
Moss made a great first impression, but he went quiet for a while after Week 1 (a 55-yard third quarter catch when the 49ers trailed the Giants 23-3 notwithstanding). However, Moss had an excuse: he didn’t play all that much. In fact, Moss played fewer than 50% of the team’s offensive snaps in each of the first 12 games. All the while Jim Harbaugh, Greg Roman and the quarterbacks would field questions periodically about Moss’ impact and they always said the same thing: Moss has been a great teammate, his insight has been valuable in the meeting room and on the practice field, and they couldn’t be happier with him.
Moss rarely if ever spoke to the media, so we had no choice but to take their word for it.
That’s not to say Moss was quiet. Whenever he was in the locker room during the periods when the media was allowed, his presence was known. He had a lot to say, and his teammates were all ears. Moss was a leader, whether he planned it that way or not. Luckily for the 49ers, he ran his routes, made it through every practice, blocked when needed and never uttered a complaining word.
That is, until Moss was forced to speak to the media in the week leading up to the 49ers’ first Super Bowl since Jerry Rice caught passes from Steve Young. Moss’ comments about being, in his mind, the best receiver of all time made headlines. However, it was answer to a question about Moss’ role with the 49ers that could speak to the team’s chances of bringing him back next season:
“I don’t like my role. I really don’t. I like to be out there playing football. One thing that I’ve always had to really understand was being a decoy,” Moss said. “Now, in my career, I understand that my presence on the field, I don’t always have to touch the ball to be able to help the offense score touchdowns. Like I said, I really don’t like that. But it’s something that I’m used to and I had to grow to understand and grow to like it. I’ve always been a team player, I’ve never been about self. Anything that’s going to push our team to victory and hopefully win the Super Bowl, I’m willing to do.”
Then came the Super Bowl, a game that saw Moss play more snaps than at any time all season (48 out of a possible 62). The results weren’t great. A 32-yard catch was overshadowed by mediocre numbers (two receptions for 41 yards on five targets) and his ambivalent reaction to a Colin Kaepernick interception. The ball was overthrown, but Moss — never one who’s cared much about what people think — didn’t even raise a hand, let alone jump.
We saw that all season, mostly on deep balls. If the pass wasn’t catchable, Moss would give up early. It’s something that has driven coaches and fans crazy his entire career. Maybe Moss is too smart for his own good. He knows what he can catch and what he can’t, and he’s also too headstrong to give unnecessary effort just because people who don’t understand his talent or preparation think he should.
Matt Barrows wrote about Chad Hall and Ricardo Lockette joining Kaepernick at Competitive Edge Sports training facility (where Kap is training with linemen). I took note of this:
At minimum, Lockette and Hall promise to be in excellent shape when the 49ers reconvene for their offseason workouts. It’s also worth noting that the 49ers have all sorts of questions at wideout. Only one receiver who caught a pass in 2012 – Michael Crabtree – is currently healthy and under contract for 2013, and the 49ers are looking for others to step forward.
Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams are currently recovering from torn knee ligaments, and A.J. Jenkins didn’t catch a pass (as you may have heard). Moss caught 35 passes including the playoffs, accumulating 546 yards (for an impressive average of 15.6 yards per reception) and three touchdowns. However, compared to Moss’ lofty resume and reputation, his production was disappointing — especially considering his rise to No. 2 on the depth chart after the injuries to Manningham and Williams.
I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure most 49ers fans want Moss to leave after what happened in New Orleans. The Media Day comments about Rice and his role, as well the effort on the INT, might have been forgiven had the 49ers won. But they didn’t. However, the 49ers don’t have a lot of receiving options. Should they bring back Moss? Let’s do a little pro/con work.
First, the pros:
— Moss was a great influence on Michael Crabtree, who became a top-10 NFL receiver for the first time.
— Moss played in every game and stayed ridiculously healthy for his age (the only injury I can even remember was when that pass from Kaepernick dislocated his finger in the Chicago game).
— He still demands attention, and often benefited from huge cushions provided by opposing corners.
— He got along with everyone and provided levity. I remember when he interrupted an interview with Carlos Rogers with a joke about Rogers taking part in a flea-flicker in the team’s next game (the NFC Championship). Rogers said, “He’s funny. He’s a guy that we need in this locker room. You’re dealing with numbers, you’re dealing with all the other stuff, but If they could find a way to get him back, it’d be really special.”
Now, the cons:
— Moss is 36. It’s hard to believe he’d play better in 2013 than he did in 2012.
— Maddening lack of effort on uncatchable balls is maddening.
— Moss ranked 90th out of 105 receivers in YAC/reception (2.9).
— The 49ers did a great job of minimizing the Moss-as-distraction sidestories … until the Super Bowl. If Moss returns, the questions about whether he likes his role will grow tiresome for the coaches and Kaepernick (Moss simply won’t talk to the press).
Does Moss even want to return?
Before the Atlanta game Harbaugh said, “I can, for official publication, I for one definitely want Randy to come back. Hope he feels the same way.”
If Moss is open to come back at a reasonable price and happily resume his role as a decoy and occasional deep threat, the 49ers would probably love to have him back. It’s not like they have a lot of better options right now. But Moss is a unique character. He could prefer to go to a team that promises he’ll get a half dozen targets per game no matter what (if that team exists). He may retire.
I don’t think we’ll see Moss in a 49ers uniform again, because he isn’t the player he once was (and probably thinks he still is). He helped open up the field early on when teams respected the reputation, but when the 49ers were forced to use him in a key role he was unimpressive. They don’t need his leadership, but they do need wide receivers. In the end, Moss may decide that he no longer needs the 49ers or the NFL. However, if he makes the first move and lets the 49ers know he wants to return and will happily do whatever it takes to get back to the Super Bowl, we may see that “Mossing” gesture a couple more times in 2013.