Monday, August 14, 2006
Not feeling so Randy these days
By Skip Bayless
At first glance, this was a match made in Raiders heaven, or hell. Yes, Randy Moss was born to wear the Silver and Black, to raise hell and hopes in Oakland, to mock-moon rival fans while playing under Raider Nation's full moon.
In the Bay Area, here was the Raiders' answer to Jerry Rice or even Barry Bonds. Here was the most dangerous home-run hitter in NFL history. Rice, obviously, was a more polished and sensationally productive receiver, but Moss had proven in seven Minnesota seasons to be the most gifted Bonds-style game breaker pro football had ever seen. The wiry 6-foot-4 frame, the 4.2 deep speed, the NBA athleticism and elevation...
Oh, would Moss ever put the "vertical" back in Al Davis' beloved passing game. Or so some of us thought.
Now, as Monday's Raiders-Vikings exhibition game takes Moss back to Minnesota for the first time, you have to wonder if he'll ever be quite as devastating as he was in purple.
Last season, his first in Oakland, Randy Gene Moss could have been described, on and off the field, with a shocking new adjective: quiet. This left many NFL insiders, including some in Oakland, wondering whether Moss, at 29, is starting to look like Bonds for the wrong reason.
Bonds, at 42, is finally starting to lose it. And some who know the Raiders believe Moss isn't quite as vertically explosive or fearless or durable as he once was.
Then again, the opinion here is that (1) Bonds still has enough left to break Hank Aaron's home-run record and (2) Moss, if healthy, can still be pro football's most dangerous deep threat for three or four more seasons.
But Moss' biggest problem was that he was born to be a '60s or '70s or '80s Raider. Now, owner and operator Davis is 77. As a GM, Davis definitely isn't what he once was.
Moss is in the right place at the wrong time. Moss is still as freakishly talented, but the Raiders are not. They don't appear to be any better than last year's 4-12 team, and they might not be as good.
Moss is not a leader, just a performer. Moss can lose interest quickly when he realizes his team doesn't have much chance of winning. Make Moss the spotlight star on an outrageously talented offense, as he was in Minnesota, and look out, end zone. Make him the media focal point of the fade-to-black Raiders, and look out, dead zone.
Though he played all 16 games last season and battled through groin, pelvis and abdomen injuries, Moss took his foot off the accelerator during some losses. He wasn't even fired up enough to get into any off-field scrapes. He caught 60 passes for 1,005 yards and eight touchdowns -- a stunning drop-off from his last healthy season in Minnesota, when he caught 111 for 1,632 and 17 TDs.
So Monday night, as Moss trots onto that fast-track turf at the Metrodome, he will miss the firepower that once surrounded him during his great old days in purple. He will miss Randall Cunningham and Daunte Culpepper, Cris Carter and Robert Smith, Dennis Green and yes, even, Mike Tice.
Last season in Oakland, Norv Turner made Mike Tice look like Vince Lombardi. Turner had failed as a head coach in Washington, and it was pretty obvious to just about everyone in the NFL except Davis that Turner was a better in-the-background offensive coordinator than out-front leader. Then again, maybe Davis hired Turner because he isn't dynamic or commanding. Last year, Davis hovered over Raiders practices like a mad puppeteer, controlling and critiquing Turner's every move.
Yes, sir, Mr. Davis, sir.
Moss quickly lost respect for Turner as a head coach and a play caller. Turner was ultimately responsible for the Raiders' biggest failure last season -- not consistently getting the ball to Moss. But Turner wasn't completely at fault.
AFC West teams often went after Moss with two defenders and tried to rough him up. He took an early-season beating and couldn't get healthy. For all the criticism that Moss takes plays off, he will keep playing hurt -- as he did, to a fault, with a torn hamstring in his final Vikings season.
But Moss also was hurt by the just-a-bit-outside inaccuracy of Kerry Collins ... the squeaky-wheel complaining of Jerry Porter, who wound up catching 16 more passes than Moss and now wants to be traded ... the inability of LaMont Jordan, a second-tier running back who was given top-tier money by Davis ... and the struggles of Robert Gallery, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 draft who looked like a bust at right tackle but is moving back to left tackle, his position at Iowa.
And when the Raiders weren't stopping themselves, they weren't stopping anyone else. They ranked 23rd in offense, but even worse (25th) on defense. That equaled one bad team with one great player.
So Davis reached back into his pride-and-poise past for his Hall of Fame left tackle and head coach from 1989-94 -- Art Shell, who hasn't coached for 12 years. But at least the whip is being cracked again at practice -- in part because Davis hasn't been around much to undercut the head coach's power. Davis' mobility is now limited by a walker, and Davis trusts Shell far more than he trusted Turner.
Shell is treating Moss -- and Porter -- just the way he treats every player. Just show up, shut up and work hard, and you're fine with Shell. So far, Moss seems to like it far more than Porter does.
But for how long?
Meet the new coordinator, same as the old coordinator? Tom Walsh, who ran the offense through the '80s and early '90s, has rejoined Shell. Walsh, too, has been out of the NFL for 12 years.
And in Oakland's first exhibition game, the Raiders' starters were dominated on both sides of the ball by the Philadelphia Eagles' starters. Moss played eight snaps. Zero passes were thrown his way.
So began the Aaron Brooks Era.
Yes, inconceivably, Davis replaced Collins with the NFL's Quarterback Most Likely to Make a Mistake -- "Error" Brooks. The Raiders failed to acquire Culpepper or Steve McNair, opted not to take Matt Leinart or Jay Cutler with the draft's seventh pick -- and wound up with a guy who can make even wilder throws and worse decisions than Collins.
Maybe the universe is getting even with Moss for all his bad-boy behavior.
Yes, the emotional Moss will have trouble controlling his tear ducts on Monday night. So many memories, great and bad. So many dome-rocking TD catches, so many fines. Yes, the tears could flow -- tears of nostalgia and frustration.
Moss spoke out of both sides of his mouth the other day to the San Francisco Chronicle, saying he didn't really have any thoughts on his return, but that "it's going to be special." He stressed that he's a Raider now, and he has a job to do, but he hopes the game will be a sellout "because I'm coming back."
So many mixed emotions. Moss concluded: "What I did in Minnesota, what I accomplished in Minnesota, is way, way behind me."
Is it ever. No. 84 is long gone. He wears 18 now.
And he's coached by a tough old Raider who has made it very clear the Raiders will not do anything special to feature Moss on Monday night. In fact, it doesn't sound like Moss will play much.
Shell said: "He can get great again. There is no doubt in my mind -- I see it. We've just got to keep him healthy coming out of training camp and get through the season [with him healthy] and he'll make his mark."
The gut feeling here is that Moss remains highly capable of making the deal that brought him to Oakland look like a steal again. For Moss, Davis traded starting middle linebacker Napoleon Harris, the seventh pick in the draft (which was used for receiver Troy Williamson) and a later-round pick.
Then again, maybe Moss should be the receiver who's soon demanding a trade.
Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice a week on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.