Time and again during Monday night’s telecast of the 49ers-Cardinals game, ESPN analyst and former NFL head coach Jon Gruden explained how Randy Moss was helping the San Francisco passing attack.
Though Moss wasn’t being targeted by quarterback Alex Smith, Gruden explained Moss was clearing out areas of the field, drawing attention and allowing other receivers to make catches.
Sooner or later, too, said Gruden, Moss was bound to make a play himself.
That happened in the third quarter when Smith hit Moss along the left sideline. Moss made a move to make one defender miss and then sprinted away for a 47-yard catch-and-run touchdown that put San Francisco up 24-0 en route to a 24-3 victory in Arizona.
Though it was only Moss’s 13th catch of the season, the former All-Pro wide receiver – back in the NFL after a year away from the game – has made the 49ers’ passing game much more dangerous this season.
He gives San Francisco both a deep threat and a big target in the red zone, commands respect from opposing secondaries and, by all accounts, has been a perfect teammate and mentor to the other wideouts on the team.
Occasionally, too, he makes plays – such as the one Monday night against Arizona – in which he looks more like the 25-year-old Moss than the 35-year-old Moss.
“I was just trying to convert for a first down,” Smith told the Bay Area News Group’s Cam Inman of his pass to Moss. “Randy made a great play on (cornerback Jamell Fleming) with an okie-doke on the sideline, and all of a sudden he was off. He was, he still is a great player.”
It was the only pass thrown Moss's way Monday night, but marked his 18th touchdown in 19 career appearances on “Monday Night Football,” Inman reported.
This season, though Moss only has the 13 catches, his plays have been big ones. He has two TD receptions, has a 55-yarder to go with his 47-yarder Monday night and is averaging 18.1 yards per reception.
Moss downplayed his big catch-and-run Monday night, saying, “The quarterback delivered (and) I caught it, ran, had some blocks downfield and it was as simple as that.”
But as Gruden pointed out many times during Monday night’s telecast, Moss still has great speed to be a playmaker. And, since signing with the 49ers in the offseason, Moss has been praised by head coach Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the receiving corps for his work ethic and leadership.
Though Moss still makes the occasional big play, Harbaugh says Moss is more concerned this season with team success, and he’s been a factor in the team’s 6-2 start as the team enters its bye week.
Harbaugh says Moss is content to play a role on a deep, talented team and doesn’t care if he’s ‘The Guy.’ ”
“It’s about us, it’s about the team,” Harbaugh said of Moss earlier this season. “And Randy, there’s no evidence that he’s concerned about ‘The Guy’ tag. He knows football. He knows the team that plays best is going to win the game. He’s been about that.”
San Francisco wideout Michael Crabtree, Smith’s favorite target among the receiving corps (who had two TD catches vs. Arizona) said he enjoyed seeing Moss make his big play Monday night. The Niners are pulling for Moss.
“I was happy to see it and I was smiling from ear to ear,” Crabtree told Inman.