Vikings, Moss make a quick strike
In one play, Minnesota wide receiver Randy Moss demolished all the goals the Bucs defense had for Sunday's game.
The Bucs knew they could not give up the deep pass, knew they could not fall behind early, knew they could not give Vikings fans a reason to get into the game and make the Metrodome an inaudible den.
But on Minnesota's fourth play from scrimmage, Moss raced down the sideline, left fallen cornerback Ronde Barber in his wake and hauled in a 61-yard touchdown pass from Randall Cunningham.
Moss stood in the end zone and urged the fans to cheer.
"It was the first touchdown of the '99 season in front of my home fans," Moss said. "I wanted to let them know we are still here, stay behind us and try to ride this thing as far as we can."
Moss was far from done. On his second catch, he did what Tampa Bay's first three opponents could not - score two touchdowns against the league's No. 1-ranked defense. On a crossing pattern, Moss caught a pass from Cunningham and outraced Bucs defenders for a 27-yard touchdown.
"We let them get started early with the first deep ball, which we were very conscious of," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "And I think once we let him get going, that really opened the floodgates."
Clearly, Moss' complaints had been heard. After being limited to nine receptions for 123 yards and one touchdown in his first three games, the second-year pro openly criticized offensive coordinator Ray Sherman. Moss insisted the Vikings needed to do more than just run him deep and into double coverage.
After that touchdown, it appeared he was right.
"When I am out wide, they have a good chance of doubling me and sometimes tripling me," Moss said. "In the slot, they have a hard time doing that. We just had to move me around a bit."
Moss had four receptions for 120 yards and was again a vital part of the offense. His performance was even more frustrating for the Bucs defense because it knew from media reports that Minnesota would alter its scheme to get Moss more involved.
"We knew they were going to try to get the ball to him early," cornerback Donnie Abraham said. "Give credit to them. That's what they did. They had stuff in for him, special routes for him that he ran. We just didn't make the plays."
After the first quarter, the Bucs made plenty of plays on Moss. He had only one reception for 11 yards in the second quarter and was shut out in the second half. The Bucs insisted no adjustments were made for Moss, although they did seem to have more jam coverage off the line.
"That was our plan coming in," safety John Lynch said of the in- your-face coverage. "We did the same thing through the game. I think it just took us awhile to settle in. When you get bombarded early, guys start doing some things, guess and what not, and not just playing their game. It took a couple of stops for us to get back and say, 'Hey, let's just play our keys and do what we do normally.' Once we did that, we had a lot more success."
Moss said he did not get discouraged. He was just glad the Vikings finally pulled out a close game after losing in the final seconds against Green Bay and Oakland and winning in the last quarter in the opener against Atlanta.
"I'm a 22-year-old man, and I don't even know what a heart attack would feel like," Moss said. "But I can't take too many of those finishes. I know I can't. We won and that's all that matters, but we're still missing the fire. We still haven't played four quarters of straight, heads-up football. I don't know if we got relaxed or what."
Ernest Hooper , The St.Petersburg Times 1999