EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — In a slightly different world, Santana Moss would face the bright TV lights and microphones thrust inches from his face and relive the happy instant when the game-winning touchdown found his hands.
Instead, Moss thrust the hands deep into his pockets. The detritus of defeat surrounded him: crumpled blue towels, empty water bottles, discarded game programs, shards of training tape and the urgency to leave MetLife Stadium.
In the span of a few jarring minutes Sunday, Moss went from hauling in a 30-yard touchdown pass to losing a fumble on the last-ditch drive as the New York Giants survived the Washington Redskins, 27-23.
“It’s something,” the receiver said, “you don’t want to be a part of.”
In the midst of his 12th NFL season, Moss understands Sunday’s extremes better than most. He tries not to get too high or low. Cliches beat back the waves of cameras. He spoke in an even, gathered voice about a turn of events as appealing to him as a dip in the nearby Hackensack River.
Yes, he felt badly about fumbling. Yes, he felt good about the touchdown.
That last touchdown — his second of the afternoon, with 1:32 remaining — stuck in his mind. Victory over the defending Super Bowl champions felt like beating Giants rookie cornerback Jayron Hosley by three steps on a seam route while Robert Griffin III’s pass caught him in stride like something from a quarterback instructional video. The touchdown would do it. The touchdown had to.
“We had the game pretty much in our grasp,” said Moss, who caught four passes for 67 yards. “Would I want it to happen a little different? Yeah, but when you’re fighting, anything can happen. Sometimes you lose a fight. I just feel like a lost a fight.”
A win came before the loss. Griffin noticed Moss one-on-one against a rookie. The opportunity was too enticing to pass up. Never mind that Moss‘ extensive playing time came thanks to big-ticket free-agent Pierre Garcon’s lingering (and mysterious) foot injury. Never mind Moss‘ 33 years, an age when most players move into their post-football careers.
“I just want to give him a chance,” Griffin said. “He told me he appreciates that because a lot of people have said they don’t think he still has it. I, for one, have seen it. I think he still has it and he showed it right there.”
Of course, Eli Manning’s 77-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz followed.
Moss, though, had another opportunity. Did the Giants score too quickly? The football rested on the Redskins‘ 32-yard line with 46 seconds left. Could Griffin conjure up another rally against a defense he shredded for 347 total yards? The quarterback zipped an 11-yard pass into Moss‘ arms. He wrapped the football with two arms responsible for 655 career catches.
Somehow, someway Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn clawed the ball free. Moss hadn’t lost a fumble since 2010, when he handed over two fumbles.
All tackle Trent Williams saw was the football — and comeback — on the ground. Hosley, the rookie Moss beat a few minutes earlier, scooped up the ball. Williams hoped Moss‘ knee was down. So did running back Alfred Morris. That’s all they had left. But Moss‘ knee wasn’t down. The rally ended and sent Giants supporters whooping back to their tailgates and New Jersey Transit trains and tour buses.
After the cameras receded, Moss slipped through the locker room, arms covered by his blue-green sweater. The touchdown that gave the Redskins an oh-so-brief lead seemed far away. Across the piled duffel bags and stacks of jerseys and overflowing garbage cans stood Morris. Before the season started, the rookie asked Moss to autograph a No. 89 jersey. Moss had always been his favorite Redskin.