AS RECEIVERS GO, HERMAN’S A REAL MONSTER FOR LIONS

He slammed the ball between his legs, then bounced up and down, then whacked himself in the helmet with both hands, then shook his fists at the crowd. I guess this is what you’d call a touchdown dance. That, or he ate some really bad Mexican food before the game.

Either way, it was his third touchdown in 26 minutes, the capper to an awesome half of football by an increasingly awesome player. You’ll forgive me if I don’t get overly excited about the big picture, the Lions’ 24-16 victory over Green Bay, since I have watched this dance too many times before, Detroit winning just enough to keep you interested, then losing when it matters. I will not be fooled by such deception. If they make the playoffs, I’ll take back everything I’ve said about them. Until then, we’ve just watching wheels spin.

I will, however, sing the praises of the tall gentleman known as Herman Moore, who began in this town as a skinny No. 1 draft choice, and has gone from promising to impressive to dangerous to — and I do not use this word loosely — superstar.

This is not exaggeration. I see Moore as the third best receiver in football right now, behind only Picasso himself, Jerry Rice, and the ebullient

Cowboy, Michael Irvin. Rice is still in a class by himself, but Irvin and Moore are an arm’s length apart, and considering one is on a team heading for the Super Bowl while the other is on a team that probably will be home for the holidays, Moore may be even more impressive.

“He is an amazing player,” Scott Mitchell said, after Moore accounted for all the touchdowns and 147 yards of Detroit offense Sunday. “You know you might not hit him in the hands, or the numbers, and he’s still going to make the catch.”

Even if there’s blood in his eye. Speed to burn

Oh. We didn’t mention that? Well, most viewers didn’t realize it either. On Moore’s second touchdown, a 69- yard catch-and-burst over the middle, a Green Bay linebacker took a swipe at tackling him and instead ripped the skin above his eye. Within seconds, Moore was bleeding like a prize fighter.

“With about 30 yards to go I started to see red,” he recalled. “I thought it was sweat, but it was blood.”

No matter. He kept going — in fact, he hit the afterburners and outraced the Green Bay defense the way a Porche outraces a Yugo.

That was one of two things Moore did Sunday that proved his membership in the elite class of receivers, fifth-gear speed, the ability to break away. The other thing he did came on that third touchdown, late in the first half, when he went down the sidelines, looked over his shoulder, and saw Mitchell’s pass coming short. He adjusted, slipped behind the defender, and caught it before the guy knew where he was, then spun off him and danced into the end zone.

This was impressive enough. The fact that it was Moore’s idea puts it over the top. “I suggested to Scott a few weeks ago, when we were playing the Packers, that the way they play defense, we could throw it short and still complete the pass. We did it today. That was designed.

“I like plays like that. I want Scott to know that he doesn’t have top make the perfect pass, doesn’t have to put it on my numbers, just get it in my vicinity, I’ll make the play.”

How can you not like that? Goals to surpass

Before the season, Moore did an interview on WJR radio, in which Joe Dumars of the Pistons, asked what a “successful” season would be in Moore’s mind. Statistically speaking.

“Ninety catches,” Moore said.

Ninety catches? Well. Here we are, at the halfway point of the season, and Moore already has 51 catches — not only ahead of his dream mark, but way ahead of the Lions’ record book. In the history of this franchise, no receiver has caught more than 77 passes or 15 touchdowns in a single year. If he stays healthy, Moore will smash those marks easily. So he will be, for this season, anyhow, the greatest receiver in Lions history.

If you ask me, this is just the beginning.

“How far are you along in your potential?” someone asked Moore after the game.

“Honestly? I think maybe 65 percent.”

This would be bragging on someone else. If you know Moore, you know he is not a braggart, he is serious — almost studious — when it comes to the game. He knows his body, he knows his 6-foot-4 height and the advantage that gives him. When you ask about Rice and Irvin, he doesn’t genuflect. He says,
“Those guys are the elite receivers, but I feel I work as hard as they do. And if I one day get used the way they do, I think I can do similar things.”

Right now, this is still Barry Sanders’ team. But week after week, the enemy radar turns more to Moore. When it splits evenly — and with Brett Perriman, we may be looking at the best receiving tandem in the NFL right now
— this team will be held back only by the accuracy of Mitchell’s arm.

It’s a sweet thing to think about. Moore just turned 27. With each passing week, we are witnessing his superstar clay, hardening in the mold. Even if the Lions drive us crazy — and they always do — we can still appreciate that.

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