Unbraided hair, unbridled offense
Randy Moss and his Minnesota Vikings wide receivers wanted to let their hair out Saturday night, with liberating results.
A month ago, Moss, Kelly Campbell and Nate Burleson decided to unbraid their Afros for their nationally televised game against the Chiefs. After all, the Vikings receivers call themselves "America's Finest Receivers On Sunday."
Not since Sampson before his haircut have individuals had better hair days. Moss caught seven passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Burleson averaged 19 yards a reception. Though Campbell caught only one pass for 7 yards, he was involved in several long passing attempts that stretched the field. Plus, he stunned the Chiefs with two first-quarter reverses in what turned out to be a 45-20 blowout of the Kansas City Chiefs that puts the Vikings within a game of clinching the NFC North.
"All the guys loosened their braids," quarterback Daunte Culpepper said. "I wish I had braids. I could have taken mine out, but I think it was great. It kind of lifted us up. Those guys came out fired up, and there was a lot of excitement."
Vikings coach Mike Tice knew Moss was going to have a great game "as soon as I saw his hairdo." Normally, Moss' hair is braided tight and hidden under a cloth. Saturday night in the Metrodome, his hair was in as many places as he was. Hair was everywhere. Even with the helmet on, his hair spread to the middle of his shoulder pads and to his back.
But Moss wasn't doing this for fun. He was serious. Six losses in eight weeks put the Vikings' playoff chances in jeopardy, and a bad performance in last Sunday's loss to the Chicago Bears made Moss mad. All week he was quiet. Culpepper smiled in practice this week when he saw the quiet Moss. A quiet Moss is all business and usually means great things.
"In a nationally televised game, he is focused," Culpepper said. "He has that look in his eyes. It's something special. I wish he could be like that all the time, but it's tough to get up like that every week."
Moss and the offense trotted onto the Metrodome turf Saturday with a mission. Within three plays, the Vikings tried to fool the Chiefs' defensive aggressiveness with back-to-back reverses involving Campbell. One worked for 6 yards. The other lost 8. But the Vikings were making a statement. "Nobody liked our game plan last week, so I figured I'll give you a game plan that you like and then I don't have to read your stories anymore," Tice said.
The Vikings attacked. After the second reverse, Culpepper hit Moss on a swing pass and he ran for 19 yards. On the next play, Culpepper found Burleson in the middle of a zone defense for 28 yards. Then, things got interesting.
Chiefs cornerback Eric Warfield twice faked a blitz as Culpepper audibled out of a run and into a pass intended for Moss. Moss ran into area vacated by Warfield and had only safety Greg Wesley covering him. Culpepper bought enough time with his feet and fired a 30-yard touchdown pass to Moss.
"I knew Randy was focused all week, and he was thinking, 'This was my game right here,'" Campbell said. "There is something about him when he's quiet and not saying much. That's when you watch out for Randy."
Moss, in fact, was so focused he didn't celebrate after touchdowns or big plays. He tossed the ball to an official. Along the sidelines, he did not remove his helmet until the game was decided, even though Campbell and the other receivers were encouraging him to show his hair and shake it.
"Randy has really matured," Culpepper said.
The Vikings offense was designed to attack Saturday. Eight times, Culpepper threw long strikes. Normally, Moss lines up to the right, but often Saturday he was on the left side as a split end to go against the shorter Dexter McCleon of the Chiefs. The Vikings put two receivers, or a receiver and two tight ends, on the right side to draw away the safety and leave Moss in single coverage.
And then, it was bombs away.
By halftime, the Vikings had a 24-0 lead and had 330 yards on 42 plays. Moss had five catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns.
"About seven of those eight long passes were called plays," Vikings offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "We've got speed. A lot of people aren't willing to do that because those are low-percentage plays. But if we have those matchups, we are going to do that. We're a little bit of a throwback in that regard."
Moss would have had a third touchdown, but after a review, it was ruled his body touched the 1-yard line on a 19-yard play in which he tried to stretch out in the middle of the field for the touchdown. Moss injured his right ankle on the play. Center Matt Birk stepped on the ankle as he pulled Moss up to celebrate. Moss returned to play but wasn't much of a factor the remainder of the second half. It didn't matter.
Onterrio Smith scored one of his three touchdowns, and the Vikings opened a 31-0 lead. The Chief rallied with 20 points, but the Vikings scored twice more to put the game away and improve to 9-6, needing a win next week in Arizona to make the playoffs.
While the hair of the receivers may have been wild, the Vikings played with a mean streak. They hit aggressively. They pounded Chiefs Pro Bowl return specialist Dante Hall so much that he couldn't finish the game because of cramps.
"We wanted to be more physical," Tice said of the special teams game plan against Hall. "We went after it. I didn't see him finish the game. We wanted to get after them. We wanted to get after their players."
The Vikings pulverized the Chiefs defense, getting 469 yards on 71 plays. The offensive line overpowered the Chiefs defense for 223 rushing yards, including 146 yards and three touchdowns by Smith. The Vikings averaged 5.7 yards a carry. The defense limited Priest Holmes to 55 yards on 18 carries.
"Our backs were against the wall today, and we seem to play really well in that situation," free safety Brian Russell said. "It could have been something for next week because if we don't get a win then, we go home. You are going to see an intense football team, a passionate game and hopefully that will get us another 'W.' "
It was intense along the sidelines because several of the players were throwing up from fatigue and being dehydrated. But it turned out to be an easy win. Moss finally let his hair fly in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach.
The next mission is to get D'Wayne Bates a wig because he doesn't have much hair. This Vikings team had an attitude Saturday.
John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.