After sitting out 2011 because no team was willing to make him a primary target, Moss is drawing compliments for the complementary role he plays for the 49ers, who are a game from winning their first Super Bowl in 18 seasons.
Moss has not caught four passes in a game since the opener against Green Bay. The only time he had as many as 50 receiving yards was a 75-yard day against the New York Giants in a 26-3 loss. But the 49ers view him as a help rather than a hindrance, and he agrees.
The advice of his first NFL coach, Dennis Green in Minnesota, finally resonated, even though Moss still considers himself an elite receiver.
“I don't like my role,” he said. “I really don't. I like to be out there playing football, and one thing I've always really had to understand is being a decoy. Coach Dennis Green in Minnesota just said that even though the football is not in your hands, you're still out there dictating how the defense plays the offense.
“It took me a while to really understand where he's coming from, but now I understand I don't always have to touch the ball to be able to help the offense score touchdowns.”
Moss, the NFL record-holder for touchdown receptions by a rookie (17 in 1998) and in a season (23 in 2007), has three scoring catches in 18 games. He says he's OK with those numbers, disputing the widely held notion that he cares about statistics more than winning.
“I've always been a team player,” he said. “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.”
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San Francisco's go-to receiver, Michael Crabtree, said he was thrilled when Moss signed in March. Crabtree has three times as many catches (85 to 28), nearly three times as many yards (1,105 to 434) and three times as many touchdowns (nine) as Moss in the regular season, but he loves Moss's presence.
“I'm just honored to be next to him,” Crabtree said. “A guy like that, a legend. He was someone that you looked up to when you were younger. It's just a great feeling.
“It's funny when you are at practice and you catch a ball over somebody and they say, ‘you got Moss'd.' You talk to the DB and you say, ‘you got Moss'd,' and Moss is sitting right there next to you.”
Instead of sulking about his reduced role, Moss has soaked in the winning atmosphere around San Francisco and even contributed to it.
“He's just being there for the younger guys and helping Crabtree, just being a pro,” running back Frank Gore said. “He made big plays this year. When his number is called, he shows up. That's all we need from him.”
If the 49ers beat Baltimore on Sunday, Moss will get his first Super Bowl ring in his 14th season. It's not exactly “Win one for the Gipper,” but quarterback Colin Kaepernick brought up Moss as a motivating factor.
“Randy is going to be a Hall of Fame player,” Kaepernick said. “He is someone who deserves a Super Bowl ring. We want to send him out the right way.”
Moss played for two of the best teams in NFL history that did not win the Super Bowl. The Vikings went 15-1 and set an NFL record with 556 points in his rookie year. They lost to Atlanta in overtime of the NFC Championship Game after kicker Gary Anderson, who was perfect during the regular season, missed a field goal that would have given them a 10-point lead late in the fourth quarter.
In 2007, New England broke Minnesota's record with 589 points and won its first 18 games before losing to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl on a touchdown in the final minute.
“I still think about the loss in '07,” Moss said. “There's just something about being undefeated and losing. I'll never forget that moment. It's not fun when you're sweating and you have confetti dropping down and sticking to your face, knowing that you're not on the winning side of that confetti. … It's definitely an honor and a privilege and a blessing to be back on this stage.”