Whether by necessity or design, the 49ers have been using Randy Moss very sparingly so far.
So far he has been an efficient, if underutilized, receiver on a team that prefers to run the ball.
Randy Moss on Sunday will make his first regular-season appearance in Minnesota as a member of an opposing team, and no matter his impact on the game, he is sure to elicit strong emotions. In fact, he expects it.
"One thing about praises and boos is, obviously, you're doing something right. I think I just hang my hat on that. ... I look forward to just hearing the Metrodome rock," Moss said this week to the San Francisco media as the 2-0 49ers were preparing for the Vikings.
For anyone used to listening to Moss, reading between the lines is often the most interesting part of conversations. If you did that, you got the feeling that Moss will be carrying quite a chip with him into the Dome on Sunday.
When asked about his best Vikings memories, Moss mentioned playing with future Hall of Famers Randall McDaniel and John Randle. He thanked Dennis Green for drafting him in 1998 while other teams passed (he never, ever forgets a slight). But he pointedly didn't mention Cris Carter, who went out of his way to position himself as Moss' mentor. Or quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who threw him so many passes. Or coach Mike Tice, who unveiled the Randy Ratio.
He didn't mention the incredible highs of the 15-1 rookie season or the dysfunctional way his second tenure here ended in 2010. But you know he's thinking about all of that. Moss always has used grudges as motivation.
But will it matter?
In perhaps his final NFL go-round, Moss -- who said he is chasing that elusive Super Bowl ring to fill "the only thing missing on my résumé" -- has been a part-time player on a very good team since ending a one-year retirement to sign in San Francisco.
So far Moss has been a part-timer, behind receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham and tight end Vernon Davis on the pass-catching pecking order. Moss has been on the field for only 37 of San Francisco's 130 offensive plays. Quarterback Alex Smith has thrown to Moss five times, all completions, for 61 yards and a TD.
Normally you'd expect Moss would be chafing over playing time. He never abides these things for long. He didn't with the Vikings, either time. He even complained about his contract after a 2010 loss while with New England, precipitating his trade back to Minnesota.
Moss answered questions about his role Wednesday rather curtly. When asked if he was concerned about playing time, he said, "No I'm not. Next question." And then, later: "It's really not up to me."
The feeling in San Francisco is the 49ers might be going easy on Moss, saving his 35-year-old legs for a postseason push. Maybe coach Jim Harbaugh might be ready to spring Moss on his former team. Moss isn't what he once was, but several Vikings still saw his skill while watching film this week. Moss needs only six more TDs to become the fourth player to reach 160, and he is 81 yards shy of becoming the fourth receiver with at least 15,000.
"He can still get downfield and stretch you deep," Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford said. "And he's still throwing that hand up [asking for the ball]. He can still go get the ball."
Cornerback Antoine Winfield said Moss and Culpepper being here was a big reason why he signed with the Vikings in 2004.
"I know he'll be excited [Sunday]," Winfield said. "This is the place where he made his career. He is still a good player. He can still run."
Harbaugh praised Moss:
"Good guy, good in the locker room, good teammate, fast, smart football player," Harbaugh said.
Smith talked about how savvy Moss is.
"He communicates very well. He's been great," Smith said.
Are they describing a new Moss?
He seduced a generation of Vikings fans his first time here. So much so that some still love him despite his questionable behavior. His comments on playing when he wants to play and his leaving the field late during a Vikings loss are just two examples. Then there was his disastrous 2010 return. That four-game stint included his much-publicized criticism of a local caterer and came to an end after his rambling tirade after a loss to the Patriots that prompted coach Brad Childress to cut him (without consulting ownership) the next day. Childress, too, was gone a few weeks later.
"There is always a thin line between speaking your mind and stepping on toes," said defensive end Brian Robison, who was in his fourth season with the Vikings in 2010.
"The thing with Randy is, no matter what people thought about him, he was going to speak his mind. So you kind of have to respect a guy like that."
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