Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 7/25/12

"Montana to Rice"


It has such a nice ring to it.

"Montana to Rice"

Dactylic, poetic; strong, natural.

"Montana to Rice"

They say three is the most inherent, innate number that man knows. Count "1, 2, 3" out-loud over and over again. It feels natural, circular, complete. Like a waltz, or a good poem written in triplets.

"Montana to Rice" has that same feel. "mon-TAN-uh to RICE". It just sounds right. And it looked pretty good, too.

In 2011, the 49ers got to know the number three all too well, and it became the number most innate to them. Drive 80 yards down the field? Three. Start on your opponent's side of the 50? Three. Create an interception within your opponent's 10? Three.

The Niners were so attracted to the number three that they often put entire games on the foot of David Akers; and he thanked them by kicking his way into the NFL record books, setting the record for most field goals in a single season. So natural was the number three's appeal to Harbaugh and Company, that they willfully declined free penalty yards and a fresh set of downs to make sure that three - and only three - went up on the scoreboard.

Three was the bane of the San Francisco offense last year. It helped them win games, yes; but it also lost them games, or made games unnecessarily close. Whether one wants to blame the play-calling, the conservative nature of the offense, Alex Smith, the receiving corps, Andy Lee and Akers for being the best special teams duo in the NFL, or some combination thereof - no offense can go on winning games forever with so many field goals as opposed to touchdowns.

And this is where a controversial, aging veteran might be the answer to San Francisco getting more sevens.

Randy Moss is a future Hall of Fame wide receiver. He holds quite a number of records, and often where he does not holdthe record, he is either tied with San Francisco's own Jerry Rice, or barely trailing him. If there's one thing Moss has consistently done throughout his career, it's produce. Questions of his production, historically, are right out.

What is up for debate is his controversial status and, as a veteran, his age. These are the two primary concerns of his detractors and those who worry about his ability to produce in 2012.

The controversial bit is very easily handled, in my opinion.  The Niner locker room boasts a strong sense of brotherhood and exudes such a positive glow of togetherness that there is no way Moss could bring it down, even if he tried.  In fact, rather than his "attitude" causing problems, Moss will be a positive contributor in that department because Jim Harbaugh has the team so tight and hungry already, and that is the kind of environment where Randy has been known to thrive.

The second concern is his age: 35.

Some point to Braylon Edwards (though only 29) as an example of the risk of bringing in a veteran and it not working out, which the 49ers did last year.  But Edwards, despite being non-productive on the field and eventually being released, did not slow down the offense in any meta sense. Of course, the 49er offense could not be slowed down much more as it stood; but still, the signing of Edwards, game-planning with him as a part of the team, and then releasing him and moving on, was all handled well and did not cause any major problems.

If Moss offers the 49ers problems off the field, their incredible locker room unity will take care of it; and if he offers problems on the field, he can be released and moved on from just as easily as Braylon was last year. His contract is designed similarly (offering little up-front, and most in incentives) and it will not be an issue for the team, or the progress of the offense as a unit, to say, "Well, this didn't work. Moving on."


But Moss, despite his downside being almost non-existent for the reasons above, is so much more promising than that. He has produced 1,000 yards in every year of his NFL career, except the years which were his last on a specific team.

With the Vikings, from 1998 to 2003, he produced six consecutive 1,200 yard seasons. He dropped off in '04 due to a hamstring that effectively kept him out of five games, but still produced 767 yards and 13 touchdowns.

All of this with varying figures at quarterback. Randall Cunningham was the primary quarterback in '98, though Brad Johnson did get some games in. In '99, Cunningham (now 36) roughly split time with Jeff George. Neither put up great numbers, but Moss still had 80 receptions for over 1,400 yards. In 2000, a young Daunte Culpepper took over; and the Vikings again made the playoffs. Culpepper remained the primary quarterback for the rest of Moss' tenure in Minnesota, but the Vikings did not get into the post-season for three consecutive years; and even though they barely squeezed their way in at 8 - 8 in '04, Moss' time there was done by the end of that season.

He moved on to the Oakland Raiders where he produced 1,000 yards in 15 games despite dealing with injuries and being on a 4 - 12 team. In '06, the Raiders finished even worse, and Moss, dealing with more injuries and allegedly lacking in effort, only played in 13 games, producing 500 yards and 3 touchdowns.

In '07 he moved to New England and had an NFL-record year. Though he missed pre-season and much of camp with another hamstring injury, he had a season for the ages and the Patriots came one game away from the perfect 19 - 0 season. From '08 to '09 he continued to produce over 1,000 yards, but the Patriots exited the playoffs early both years; and in 2010 he was mutually released after feeling disrespected by Belichick and the Patriots organization. Personally, if I had Randy freakin' Moss, I would have treated him better, but what do I know?

He hopped his way through several teams in 2010 after leaving New England - all to his (and their) dissatisfaction.

The pattern emerging is that when a team stops doing well, or when Moss feels disrespected and unwanted, he seems to become discoruaged. Even still, his production throughout his career is historic - Moss on an apathetic, uncaring day is still Randy Moss - and there is no reason to believe he will not be able to produce with San Francisco. It has never seemed to matter who was at quarterback for Moss; from Kerry Collins to Randall Cunningham, from Tom Brady to Jeff George - Moss produced regardless.

What has mattered is the spirit of the locker room, feeling respected and trusted by his teammates and the organization, and winning. Barring a complete 180 from last season, Randy will have all three of these things in San Francicso; and the truth is, no matter what you think of Alex Smith, he will not be the worst quarterback Randy has ever had.

Not only will Moss have the ingredients he demands from an organization, but he still has the speed, height, understanding, and raw talent to make him a great wide receiver. Remember, Moss took a year off in 2010 and had time to think things over. He chose San Francisco right away after tossing the ball around with Harbaugh for a couple hours, and that did not happen without a reason. Moss believes this could be a fresh start, and that he can produce here like he used to.

San Francisco should certainly be glad to have him, because the 49ers have not had a 1,000 yard receiver (or tight end, for that matter) since 2003, when Terrell Owens went for 1,100 at the age of 30.  Their leading receiver in '06 was future Hall of Famer, Isaac Bruce, who knotted over 800 yards at the age of 36.

Randy Moss, at the age of 35, still has a couple (literally: two) good years left in him if the history of quality, aging receivers is any indication. The Niners struck gold at the right time (pun intended). This could be the year they finally get a 1,000 yard receiver. Even if it is not Moss, he could provide enough distraction and require enough game-planning that it will open things up for newly acquired Mario Manningham, or for Michael Crabtree, who has been slowly building a solid rapport with Alex Smith.

From 2001 to 2011, 16 different players from the age of 35 to 37 have started at least eight games. Six of those achieved over 1,000 yards, and two did it twice (Owens almost did it for a second time in 2010, despite only starting 11 games):

Player Year Age Team Games Started Rec. Yards TDs Y/G Jimmy Smith 2004 35 JAX 16 16 74 1172 6 73.3 Tim Brown 2001 35 OAK 16 16 91 1165 9 72.8 Rod Smith 2005 35 DEN 16 16 85 1105 6 69.1 Joey Galloway 2006 35 TAM 16 14 62 1057 7 66.1 Terrell Owens 2008 35 DAL 16 16 69 1052 10 65.8 Derrick Mason 2009 35 BAL 16 16 73 1028 7 64.3 Jimmy Smith 2005 36 JAX 16 16 70 1023 6 67.6 Joey Galloway 2007 36 TAM 15 15 57 1014 6 67.6 Terrell Owens 2010 37 CIN 14 11 72 983 9 70.2

Jimmy Smith had Byron Leftwich and David Gerrard in '04 and '05. Tim Brown had a 36-year-old Rich Gannon.  Rod Smith had Jake Plummer.  Galloway had Bruce Gradkowski, 36-year-old Jeff Garcia, and Luke McCown in his two years on the list. Owens had Tony Romo in '09 and Carson Palmer in '10.  Mason had Joe Flacco.

Where does Smith fit in among these names and the years they had?  Honestly, he is not the worst on the list.  Where does Moss fit in among the receivers?  Quite clearly not the worst on the list.  Going off this, does Moss' age really matter?

Here are the five receivers who started at least eight games between ages 35 and 37 over the past two years. Since they are more Moss' contemporaries, perhaps they can provide a different template for what we might expect:

Player Year Age Team Games Started Rec. Yards TDs Y/G Terrell Owens 2010 37 CIN 14 11 72 983 9 70.2 Derrick Mason 2010 36 BAL 16 15 61 802 7 50.1 Donald Driver 2010 35 GB 15 15 51 565 4 37.7 Donald Driver 2011 36 GB 16 14 37 445 6 27.8 Hines Ward 2011 35 PIT 15 9 46 381 2 25.4

The average between the five is 12.5 games started, 15 games played, 53 receptions for 633 yards, and roughly six touchdowns.  Again, this would not only be more-than-acceptable, assuming Moss fills his primary role of taking the tops off of defenses, but it's actually better than many critics believe Moss can do.  Which is strange, because Moss is undeniably a bigger threat than any of these receivers ever were.  The only one truly comparable is Owens, who had an outstanding season in 2010, despite not playing every game.  If they could all produce at ages 35 to 37, why can't Moss?

On whole, the San Francisco passing attack seems destined to improve, and this writer expects Randy Moss to be a big part of that.  The football nation itself is very excited at the prospect of Moss in a Niners uniform, and many otherwise-skeptical pundits will be pleasantly surprised at what he is still capable of at the age of 35.  More than anything, Moss is hungry for that Super Bowl ring, which would be the crowning achievement on his already Hall of Fame career.  If all the doubters make him even hungrier, so be it.  But even at the age of 35, does anyone really want to line up on defense and see Randy freakin' Moss standing in front of them?

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