Randy Moss appears to be gaining in relevance as the San Francisco 49ers' regular season heads into its final three-game stretch.
2012 Randy Moss Playing Time
That has been more out of necessity than by design. Injuries have sidelined Kyle Williams for the season and Mario Manningham for a recent stretch. Manningham's availability will influence how much Moss plays when the 49ers visit his former team, the New England Patriots, for a Sunday night game in Week 15.
Moss played a season-high 50 percent of the 49ers' offensive snaps during a 27-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Week 14. He caught two passes for 30 yards, both for first downs.
Moss now has 21 receptions for 326 yards, good for a 15.5-yard average. He has 17 first downs on his 21 receptions, an 80.1 percent conversion rate that leads the team by a wide margin (not counting running back LaMichael James, who converted a first down on his lone reception).
The 49ers appear to appreciate Moss' presence as a resource for younger players. By all accounts, Moss remains an asset in that way. The issues precipitating his departure from New England, including a blowup with the team's offensive coordinator, have not recurred in San Francisco.
On the field, the 49ers aren't leaning on Moss for consistent production. Michael Crabtree is the best wide receiver on the team. He has 66 receptions for 761 yards and five touchdowns, 40 first downs and 382 yards after the catch, all team highs.
Moss has provided targeted strikes. His 47-yard touchdown reception at Arizona in Week 8 featured 41 yards after the catch. The touchdown briefly demonstrated Moss' big-play ability at age 35.
Moss had a shot at a 47-yard touchdown on a flea-flicker against the Dolphins. Replays showed a defender grabbing Moss' arm to prevent the reception. Connecting on that play would have raised Moss' profile heading into his New England return.
The Patriots allowed 12 receptions of 30-plus yards during a four-game stretch ending in Week 5. They have allowed six over their seven subsequent games.