PHOENIX - Randy Moss has two catches in two playoff games, a lack of production that has been a hot topic leading into Super Bowl XLII.
In the divisional round against the Jaguars, Moss was double-covered almost every snap, which helped explain why few passes were thrown in his direction. But what about the AFC Championship game against the Chargers?
San Diego cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who was in Arizona making promotional appearances for
Cromartie said the Chargers played "one coverage, man free," essentially using their cornerbacks one-on-one against Moss most of the game.
Unlike the Jaguars, who had a safety playing over the top of Moss, the Chargers relied on Cromartie and Quentin Jammer to handle Moss with little help. Most often, according to Cromartie, there was only a single safety splitting the back end of the field.
"It was just going out and playing football," Cromartie, the dynamic second-year star who led the NFL in interceptions with 10, said yesterday.
"We just played man-to-man coverage. We have faith in our corners and didn't play anything with safety help because we knew playing New England, they have other weapons. So we just went man and tried to be physical with him."
Cromartie explained that the physical play was crucial to the plan, and that meant jamming Moss at the line of scrimmage as much as possible.
"I think everybody knows you can't let Randy Moss get down the field. That's a big part of his game and with a free release, he's that much better," Cromartie said. "Going into that game, we felt like we could jam him and beat him up down the field, with the idea that it would make [Tom ] Brady throw the other way once he sees him jammed up."
One aspect that caught Cromartie's eye was Moss playing hard from start to finish, despite the physical pounding.
"I think he's a great competitor. A lot of people say he quits on a lot of plays, but playing that game, you didn't see that," Cromartie said. "That was a great challenge."
Cromartie said the Chargers went away from man coverage when the Patriots went to their "empty" package that had running back Kevin Faulk split out as a receiver and Brady in the shotgun. Moss played in the slot at that time, and the Chargers switched to zone.
"They hurt us out of that, mainly with Faulk," Cromartie said. "He's a tremendous player. I think they knew that with Moss in the slot, a lot of people would key on him and they threw a lot of shorter passes on us to Faulk."
Looking ahead to Super Bowl XLII, the question the Giants must answer is do they have the corners to match up against Moss. Eleven-year veteran Sam Madison, first-round draft choice Aaron Ross, and third-year man Corey Webster top the depth chart, but they are not considered the same caliber of Cromartie and Jammer.
The official franchise and transition tags for the 2008 season have been set, and the position of note for the Patriots is receiver, because Moss is scheduled to be a free agent.
The Patriots and Moss's representatives will presumably work to strike an extension but if that fails, the franchise or transition tag would be an option the Patriots could use to strengthen their chances at retaining Moss.
The franchise tag for receivers will be $7.84 million in 2008, while the transition tag is set at $6.87 million.
A player who is assigned the non-exclusive franchise tag can sign an offer with another team as a free agent, but it seldom results in a player changing teams because draft-pick compensation must be forfeited. A player who gets the transition tag can sign elsewhere, but the original team has the right to match.
The franchise tag was a point of contention last season for cornerback Asante Samuel, who held out most of training camp. He only returned after the Patriots agreed not to tag him again this year, as long as the Patriots won at least 12 games or Samuel played at least 60 percent of the snaps.
Tip of the cap
NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw held his "state of the union" press conference yesterday, and labor peace was at the forefront of the discussion.
NFL owners are expected to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement in November, which would make 2010 an uncapped year if an extension is not reached. Upshaw held a hard line and indicated the union wasn't giving anything back, noting that the union has been exploring four options since its meeting last March - strike, lockout, decertification, or extension.
Upshaw also said NFL players will consent to a urine test for human growth hormone once such a test is developed, although scientists appear closer to developing a blood test for HGH.
"We all know there is no reliable test for HGH," said Upshaw. "Until a test is developed for HGH, there's really not an awful lot to talk about. And when that test is developed, we really believe it should be a urine test. No one is interested in a blood test. We got a lot of big tough guys, but they don't even like to be pricked on the finger to give blood."
Material from the Associated Press was used; Mike Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.