A day for Harris and the Packers

Updated: December 26, 2004, 11:10 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- One of the few defensive backs from either team who actually got his hands on something here Friday afternoon, Green Bay cornerback Al Harris feigned indifference when informed after the Packers' 34-31 victory that Minnesota wide receiver Randy Moss had posted just a pair of catches for 30 yards.

Al Harris
Cornerback
Green Bay Packers
Profile
2004 SEASON STATISTICS
Tot Ast Solo FF Sack Int
55 51 4 0 0 1

Politically correct, and a student of the manual of trite phrases and buzz-words that every cornerback seems to study when they enter the league, Harris talked about how he never much recalls an opponent's performance. How cornerbacks must demonstrate selective amnesia to survive at the NFL level. How the most important accomplishments against the Vikings were a victory and a third straight division title.

But then turning to head for the buses that would ferry the Packers to the airport, Harris let down his guard for just a second, and his pride came through.

"Now, you know, don't you, man, that [Moss] pushed off on me on his touchdown catch, right?" Harris noted, laughing. "The refs missed that one. They said he worked his way around me. Worked his way around me, huh? Yeah, right, ref."

Truth be told, on a day when the passing game was in vogue, and the two quarterbacks registered five touchdown heaves between them, Moss had a major problem getting around, over, past, in front, or separating from Harris. This was not vintage Moss, even though he still has 12 touchdown catches, and still has enough talent operating at considerably less than peak efficiency to draw plenty of attention.

Saddled much of the campaign by a balky hamstring, Moss can't afford to really turn on the afterburners, for fear his injury will worsen and he will miss the playoffs. Moss' physical tribulations, however, should not diminish in any way the performance Harris turned in against the explosive Vikings star.

Al Harris
APHarris blanketed Moss, who had two catches, all afternoon.
During much of his seven-year career, Moss has typically torched the Packers secondary, and he figured to have a big day Friday against a Green Bay unit forced to play lots of kids, including a pair of rookie cornerbacks, and lots of combinations because of injuries and the trade of malcontent Mike McKenzie.

For sure, Green Bay defensive coordinator Bob Slowik employed a variety of coverages against Moss, but Harris was the principle stopper. And anytime you limit even a weakened Moss to a pair of catches, well, you've stopped him pretty well. Harris was right, too, in insisting that Moss had cleverly pushed off on his 12-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.

The official game statistics hardly do justice to Harris, since he is cited for just one tackle and one pass defended, but he played far better than those numbers indicate.

"He took on the big guy and he held him down," said Packers free safety Darren Sharper, nodding toward his teammate. "There haven't been a lot of times we've come into this place and walked out being able to say that. You can tell Randy is hurting a little but, hey, he is still Randy Moss, right? And he didn't beat us."

The Vikings typically moved Moss around in their formations, trying to force Green Bay to first identify where he was, and then conjure up a design for stopping him. On some plays, Harris was in single-coverage, but he got plenty of help, and the Packers zoned up frequently. When the Vikings aligned Moss in the slot, the Packers sometimes moved a linebacker out on him, to help bracket the Minnesota star.

In all, Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper threw only seven passes for Moss, a fairly modest number under any circumstances. Culpepper conceded that the Packers did an admirable job against his favorite target, his security blanket of choice, acknowledging a degree of frustration at not being able to get Moss the ball.

Asked if he sensed frustration in the eyes of Moss as the game wore on, Harris laughed and changed the subject, redirecting the conversation in general to the Packers' comeback victory. Fittingly, Harris was good at that -- he was redirecting Moss' pass routes most of the day, too.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

ALSO SEE