It's been a strange and turbulent season for Vikings receiver Randy Moss, and it did not get any easier when Minnesota coach Dennis Green's 10-year run ended abruptly yesterday with a contract buyout.
Moss' inconsistent effort on the field and the coach's inability to change his attitude may have been partially responsible for the sudden exit of the NFL's longest-tenured coach.
Previously this season, Moss had been criticized by media, opponents and even his teammates. His assertion that he "plays when he wants to play" has earned him a reputation as more than an NFL bad boy, but as a willing example of what is wrong with sports today.
Then again, Moss, at times, has been the best receiver - and perhaps best player - in football. Even through this embattled 5-10 season, Moss has 80 receptions, tying a career high. His 1,224 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns are also more than all but a handful of receivers - but not enough to offset his image in the minds of Pro Bowl voters, who left him off the team for the first time in his four-year career.
"You have a lot of players who express themselves in certain ways. Sometimes they're misunderstood, sometimes they don't understand what the message is they're conveying and the response it will have," Ravens coach Brian Billick. "It's a tough situation. But he's still the most dynamic player in the National Football League."
How Moss and the Vikings will respond in Monday's regular-season finale against the Ravens at PSINet Stadium is difficult to predict.
The Vikings, with an 0-7 road record and a myriad of distractions led by their coaching situation, could roll over Monday. Or they could rally behind interim play-caller Mike Tice, a respected assistant and former Maryland quarterback who will be considered for the head coaching job next season.
Much of their early pulse will be determined, as usual, by their star receiver.
Moss has a history of saving his best efforts for the prime-time spotlight. His best performance this season was in a Monday night game against the Giants, when he had 10 catches for 171 yards and three touchdowns. In seven career Monday night games, Moss is averaging 22.1 yards a catch and has 10 touchdowns.
Moss has been mum for much of the season, but he had plenty to say the few times he has spoken to the media. His last public comments came in a teleconference with Tennessee media before the Vikings' 42-24 victory over the Titans.
"There's nobody here on the face of this earth that can make me go out here and play football. I can go out here on the field and suit up and stand on the sideline and play," Moss said at the time. "At my highest level? I don't know. If I want to go out here and play at my highest level, I'll do that."
In the Tennessee game, Moss made seven catches for 158 yards. The Vikings are 0-3 since then, and in the past two games Moss has made a combined five catches for 44 yards.
Veteran Cris Carter - the other half of what has been a dynamic duo at wide receiver for the Vikings and somewhat of a mentor for his young counterpart - publicly criticized Moss recently.
"I ask myself the question, `Is that what you taught him, or did you teach him something else?' " Carter said in a conference call before last week's game against Green Bay. "So to me, I take personal offense to it because that's not the way you approach the game. You play when they make the schedule. When the commissioner gives the schedule, that's when you play."
Carter's sentiments were shared by Jacksonville receiver Keenan McCardell and Green Bay's Antonio Freeman. Their message: With all his talent, why does Moss want to waste it?
"There's probably 99 percent of the players in the league that have less ability than Randy has," Carter said. "For the rest of us, we know that we have to give our absolute best to even perform in the NFL, and we know it's not easy."