MINNEAPOLIS — The number of Randy Moss jerseys in the stands at Mall of America Field prior to Sunday’s game between the Vikings and 49ers was an indication that Minnesota fans were excited for the return of one of the Vikings’ all-time great wide receivers. Sure, there were some red No. 84 jerseys in the crowd, but there were plenty of the purple variety as well — and even one from Moss’ college days at Marshall.
As it turned out, those fans wearing Moss’ jersey had almost as much of an impact in the outcome of the game as Moss himself. San Francisco looked to Moss early, but the veteran receiver was standing on the sideline late in the game as his 49ers fell 24-13 to the Vikings.
Moss finished with just three catches for 27 yards in his return to Minnesota, but his role could have been greater early. San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith was unable to connect with Moss on a pass that would have been an easy touchdown in the first half. Facing a 2nd-and-8 from the Vikings 18-yard line, Smith overthrew Moss near the goal line. The 49ers wound up settling for a field goal two plays later for their first points of the game.
“We didn’t execute well enough in the red zone. That kind of goes back to the pass to Randy,” Smith said. “I hit that there for a touchdown and it’d change the game. We’re kicking too many field goals down there again. We’d love to get sevens. A lot we can get better on, for sure.”
After the Vikings drafted Moss 21st overall in 1998, he spent the first seven years of his NFL career in Minnesota, earning trips to five Pro Bowls during that time. Moss then played in Oakland for two seasons and New England from 2007-10 before coming back to the Vikings midway through the 2010 season. His return to Minnesota was brief, however, as he played in just four games before the Vikings placed him on waivers. Tennessee claimed Moss, and he spent eight lackluster games in a Titans uniform.
After retiring prior to the 2011 season, Moss signed with San Francisco this offseason, the fifth team in his 14-year career. He was mostly a non-factor in the 49ers’ first two games, catching five total passes for 61 yards. That included a touchdown against his former nemesis, the Green Bay Packers, at Lambeau Field, where he infamously fake-mooned the crowd while with Minnesota many years ago.
Targeted six times in Sunday’s homecoming, Moss came down with just three catches. He dropped the first pass from Smith on San Francisco’s first drive of the game, eliciting some cheers from the Vikings faithful. Moss’ longest catch Sunday went for just 12 yards.
Clearly, this wasn’t the same Randy Moss the fans in Minnesota were used to seeing.
“I want to thank the fans for the love,” Moss said after the game. “I really appreciate the love that they give. We just didn’t pull it through today.”
When asked if his playing time was about what he expected it to be for Sunday’s game, Moss simply said, “Next question.”
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh was also asked about Moss’ involvement and whether he felt Moss was hoping for a bigger game in his homecoming.
“I sense we all wanted to have a bigger game today,” Harbaugh said.
It remains to be seen if Moss can have any sort of impact for the 49ers offense. Through three games, his eight total catches for 88 yards haven’t exactly been game-changing.
But at least for one more game, the fans Moss wowed in his prime got one last look at the former fan favorite. Ultimately, though, a Vikings team that surprised the formidable 49ers ruined what could be Moss’ final trip to Minnesota.
“I know that the Vikings have always played other teams tough, especially when they are the underdog,” Moss said. “That is one thing that is Minnesota football . . . We are going to go ahead and watch the film and correct our mistakes and go from there.”