Randy Moss has been known for many things throughout his 14-year NFL career. His freakish athleticism, disruptive attitude, unusual touchdown celebrations, and even his preference to pay in "straight cash, homey" all immediately come to mind.
But among all the clear descriptors, leadership never seemed to make the list.
Leaders typically don't alienate themselves from teammates, complain about not getting the ball or find themselves on three different teams in a single season. Moss may be one of the best athletes to ever don shoulder pads and a helmet, but the term "leader" just never seemed to be an appropriate fit.
Upon deciding to return to the football field this season after a year away, Moss claimed to have found a new perspective on life and his playing career. He's making good on his promise.
Moss has been an unselfish and emotional leader for the 49ers this season, even with an unusually small role in the offense. And he showed off his team-oriented attitude once again on Monday night.
Facing a very stingy Cardinals defense, the Niners knew they would need to establish both facets on offense. Moss may not have been a major part of that game plan, but he more than played his part in their offensive success.
The focus of Moss' performance will surround his impressive 47-yard touchdown catch that gave the 49ers a commanding 24-0 lead in the fourth quarter. But his impact extended far beyond just that play. Moss was also sustaining blocks –shocker, I know — and going deep as a decoy to set up more opportunities in the middle of the field.
What's most impressive about Moss' night, especially in a game where he was targeted just once, is that the seven-time Pro Bowler was satisfied. A stat monger and unsatisfied prima donna for much of his career, Moss has finally developed into the team-first player that made guys like Jerry Rice so successful. It must be pure coincidence that he's doing it where Rice also made a name for himself.
The impact of Moss' unselfishness also seems to be extending out onto some of his teammates, too. Michael Crabtree, who has largely been a disappointment since the 49ers selected him 10th overall in 2009, has enjoyed a much-awaited breakout this season, and Moss' impact on such is evident.
After a couple of tough outings against the Seahawks and Giants, Crabtree tied a personal best with a two-touchdown performance in the 49ers' 24-3 win in Arizona. He pulled in all five passes thrown his way, and helped Alex Smith establish a rhythm that saw the veteran quarterback complete 18 of his 19 attempts. But it was Moss' deep-threat ability that caused the Cardinals to fall into a deeper zone, allowing Crabtree space to roam free for much of the night.
At age 35, Moss has lost a step and isn't the same receiver who racked up 1,600 yards for the Vikings in 2003 or caught 23 touchdowns for the Patriots in 2007. But what Moss has lost in physical ability, he's gained in leadership. And that might be exactly what San Francisco needs from him.