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Inside The NFL

Oct. 07, 2002
Oct. 07, 2002

Table of Contents
Oct. 7, 2002

Inside The NFL

Catching Heat
Randy Moss's lack of productivity on the field may be the least
of the problems facing the Vikings' star wideout

This is an article from the Oct. 7, 2002 issue Original Layout

Vikings wideout Randy Moss capped the worst week of his
tumultuous five-year NFL career on Sunday with the worst game of
his life, dropping or misjudging four catchable passes in the end
zone during the third quarter of a 48-23 loss to the Seahawks.
But Moss, the most notorious motorist in the Twin Cities in the
wake of his Sept. 24 arrest for allegedly bumping a
traffic-control officer with his Lexus sedan, may have even more
serious matters to deal with.

According to a Vikings source, Moss was a mandatory participant
in the NFL's drug-testing program before police arrested him for
the traffic incident and found a small amount of marijuana in his
car during the ensuing search. (As of Monday, no drug charges had
been filed.) A player in the NFL drug program has to submit to as
many as 10 random tests each month, and Moss told coach Mike Tice
that he was tested by the league two days before his arrest; the
first violation of the program's terms can trigger a four-game
suspension. What's more, according to Moss's contract, a copy of
which was obtained by SI, he would have to refund a portion of
his $18 million signing bonus if he "fails or refuses to practice
or play with Club at any time for any reason including player's
suspension by the NFL or Club." That could cost Moss $8.75
million if he is suspended this season, $7.5 million in 2003 and
a diminishing amount in each remaining year of the eight-year,
$75 million deal he signed before the 2001 season.

After the game on Sunday, when asked if he was worried about
receiving a four-game league suspension, Moss said no and
declined further comment.

A team suspension was one of the options weighed by Tice as Moss
sat in a Hennepin County Jail cell last week awaiting charges.
Tice, a Vikings assistant for six years who became coach last
January, told SI, "This is Randy's first real challenge to
authority since I've been coach, and everyone's looking to me to
see how I'll handle it. I'm going to be tough." Shortly
thereafter, however, Moss was charged with two misdemeanors
(careless driving and failure to obey a traffic officer), and
the league told Minnesota that even if it suspended Moss, he
could file a grievance with the NFL Players Association and
would likely have the suspension lifted.

So Tice fined Moss some $48,000--one game check plus fines for
being late to practice and for missing a weightlifting
session--and demanded that Moss apologize to the team and fans. "I
know people are saying I'm a candy ass for not trying to suspend
him," Tice said on Sunday. "If the charges had been felonies, I'd
have suspended him. And I had players coming to me saying, 'Don't
penalize us over a traffic ticket.'"

The way Moss and the 0-4 Vikings played on Sunday was a crime. In
this wreck of a season Minnesota laid its biggest egg since
getting drilled by the Giants in the 2000 NFC Championship Game.
The Vikings fell behind 45-10 in the second quarter, giving up
four Seattle touchdowns in a 1:47 span. Moss had six catches and
almost as many drops. "Hell, no, I ain't never had a game like
that, not junior high, high school or college," Moss said
good-naturedly at his locker after the game. "It irks my soul to
perform like that."

Just how much of a distraction was the Moss incident for the
team? Consider that when he called Tice from jail, the coach left
the Tuesday-night game-planning session. Unsuccessful in his
effort to spring Moss, Tice returned a couple of hours later and
told his staff that it should plan on playing the Seahawks
without its No. 1 wideout. The coaches worked until 2:30 a.m.
drawing up a new game plan, only to have Moss walk into practice
on Wednesday afternoon.

With Moss averaging a meager 8.7 yards per catch--he averaged
19.0, 17.7, 18.7 and 15.0 in his first four seasons--Minnesota's
game-planning has been troubled all season. Tice's announced
intent to get the ball to Moss on 40% of the team's pass attempts
has made it easier for defensive coordinators to scheme against
the Vikings, sliding a safety over the top of Moss on every
conceivable passing down. "If you announce what you're doing,
every defensive coordinator in the league says, 'Thank you very
much,'" former Cowboys All-Pro receiver Michael Irvin said last
week.

Fans at Seahawks Stadium booed loudly every time the ball was
thrown in Moss's direction. "I heard the boos," he said. "The
more I dropped, the more I got down on myself."

During a clear-the-air meeting with Tice last Thursday, Moss
became emotional. According to Tice, Moss said, "I love football.
I need football in my life." Then Moss said he was angry that
Tice never asked how he was doing when he showed up after being
released from jail. "All you did was yell at me," Moss said to
Tice. "All I wanted was a hug, and you wouldn't even hug me."

This man doesn't need a coach, Tice thought, starting to get
misty-eyed himself. He needs a father. Also in that meeting Tice
told Moss, "You will never live a normal life." On Sunday, Moss
got a taste of what's in store for him.

Tomlinson's Record Game
Charger Runs Patriots Ragged

With his team trailing the Patriots 14-7 in the second quarter on
Sunday, Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson was worried.
New England was controlling the clock, while San Diego was
struggling to sustain a drive. "I was hyped on the sideline,
until I heard my linemen saying, 'Don't worry; they can't hang
with us.' That relaxed me." Duly composed, Tomlinson went to
work, tying the score at 14 on a 37-yard run with 2:28 left in
the half and then providing the winning touchdown on a 58-yard
romp on the second play after intermission.

Tomlinson finished with 27 carries and a team-record-tying 217
yards in the Chargers' 21-14 victory, which snapped the Patriots'
12-game winning streak. The win, according to San Diego coach
Marty Schottenheimer, "finally gives this franchise real
substance." It also gives the Chargers their first 4-0 start
since their 1994 Super Bowl season.

After watching the Chiefs' Priest Holmes shred New England for
180 yards on Sept. 22, Tomlinson figured he'd be getting the
Patriots one week too late. But in studying film of that game,
Chargers coaches saw that the Pats used several nickel
packages--with a third safety replacing a linebacker--on first
and second downs, leaving them vulnerable to quick-hitting runs.
"We knew if we could get LT past the line, he could do the
rest," said right tackle Vaughn Parker.

The film also revealed New England's tendency to overpursue
ballcarriers, which San Diego exploited by repeatedly faking
reverses to wideouts Tim Dwight and Curtis Conway, freeing
Tomlinson to burn New England with cutback moves. Indeed, it was
his dart back to his right (as Dwight faked an end around) that
froze Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi and sprung Tomlinson on
his second scoring run.

"I've become more patient this year," says Tomlinson, the fifth
pick in the 2001 draft, who leads the NFL with 506 rushing yards.
"With the way my line was taking it to them today, it was easy."

As impressed as they were with Tomlinson's two scoring runs,
teammates were equally inspired by the between-the-tackles
running of the man they call the Joystick, "because he's got all
the moves in the video games," says defensive end Marcellus
Wiley. "Some people think that just because you have a Ferrari,
you can't drive it cross-country. But the Joystick runs hard like
that every day." --Josh Elliott

Dispatches
Late Heroics Boost Maddox

It's only a matter of time before Steelers coach Bill Cowher
starts quarterback Tommy Maddox over the slumping Kordell
Stewart. Maddox, 31, came off the bench on Sunday to complete 11
of 13 passes for 122 yards and a game-tying fourth-quarter
touchdown in an overtime win over the Browns. "He's a
gunslinger," said Pittsburgh wideout Hines Ward. "I haven't seen
a two-minute drill like that in a while. It was like Joe Montana
or John Elway ran it."... The legend of Drew Bledsoe grows: He's
on pace for an NFL-record 5,380-yard passing season, and he was
15 of 15 for 209 yards and four touchdowns on four scoring drives
in the Bills' overtime win over Chicago.... This may be the worst
Bengals team of all time, which is saying something. Cincinnati
has scored 23 points in 46 possessions; the average margin of
defeat in their 0-4 start is 24 points.

Read Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback every week at
cnnsi.com/football.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [T of C] BREESING ALONG After beating the Patriots, Drew Brees will lead the 4-0 Chargers (page 84) against the Broncos.COLOR PHOTO: JIM MONE/AP Moss spent a night in jail and had a nightmare of a game against the Seahawks.COLOR PHOTO: OTTO GREULE JR./GETTY IMAGES (INSET [See caption above]COLOR PHOTOTomlinson's cutbacks kept the Pats off balance.