Morris piles on the tough yards in record style

The Redskins 17-16 win over the New York Giants puts the team in a tie for second place with the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East, but they need to maintain a balance on offense in order to make the playoffs. (Mike Jones and Jayne Orenstein/The Washington Post)
December 4, 2012

With all eyes trained on the Washington Redskins’ electrifying quarterback Robert Griffin III in anticipation of him continuing his recent torrid passing display, the Redskins’ other rookie proved the workhorse and paced his team in a 17-16 victory over the New York Giants.

Grinding out tough yard after tough yard, Morris provided the bulk of Washington’s offense, rushing for a career-high 124 yards on 22 carries on a night when the team’s usually high-powered attack sputtered.

It marked Morris’s fifth 100-yard rushing performance of his career, and the first time since 2008 that the Redskins have had a running back record at least five 100-yard games in one season.

But more notably, Morris easily surpassed the 1,000-yard mark — becoming the Redskins’ first 1,000-yard back since Clinton Portis in 2008 — and also handily broke the franchise rookie rushing record of 1,063 yards set by Reggie Brooks in 1993.

With four games remaining on the season, Morris has 1,106 yards and is on pace to finish with 1,474. Portis rushed for 1,487 yards in 2008, and since then no Washington back has come close to similar production. Until now.

Monday night’s performance marked the continuation of the feel-good story that Morris has provided all season as he plays in the shadow of Griffin.

Drafted in the sixth round out of Florida Atlantic, the 5-foot-11, 220-pound Morris once was considered practice squad material, or possibly a backup fullback. But when injuries to veterans Tim Hightower, Evan Royster and Roy Helu Jr. left the Redskins without a healthy back in the preseason, Morris stepped in, took the lead rushing job and never relinquished it.

Morris surpassed the 1,000-yard mark on only his third carry of the game Monday night — a 19-yard gain — and then methodically picked up yardage the rest of the way while his team’s passing attack struggled.

The rookie had one carry he likely would rather forget — a six-yard gain in the third quarter, where he fumbled the ball after getting hit mid-air by Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn. The Giants recovered at their own 9-yard line, killing Washington’s chances of taking a third-quarter lead.

But Morris, who previously had lost only one fumble in the first 11 games of the season, shook off the turnover and gained another 65 yards — 41 of them coming on five carries during a 12-play, 86-yard drive that spanned the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth was capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass from Griffin to Pierre Garcon for the deciding score.

“This is just a blessing. It means a lot. I came from nothing, and first to be the starter and two, to have their trust and respect to give me the ball after I made a mistake, and to be able to come through, it was just huge,” Morris said.

The performance topped a previous highly productive outing against the Giants for Morris.

In his first meeting against the NFC East leaders, Morris recorded a career-high 120 yards on 22 carries. But the Redskins lost that Week 7 matchup 27-23 on a late-game touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Victor Cruz.

This time, however, Morris willed his team to victory.

After a strong defensive stand that forced the Giants to punt with 3 minutes 51 seconds left in the game and Washington up 17-16, Morris fought for more tough yards. And with the New York defenders trained on him so intently, the Redskins went to the play-action attack as Griffin connected with Garcon for a 17-yard gain on second and eight to extend the drive.

On the following plays, Morris barreled ahead for gains of four and three — not significant yardage-wise, but enough to force the Giants to burn their final timeouts as time ticked down.

And on third and three with 1:07 left, Morris took the handoff and ran off tackle for six yards and another first down.

“I told him that six yards was the difference of our season, because without that, knowing Eli, no telling what he could’ve done,” tackle Trent Williams said. “We take a lot of pride in him rushing the ball like that. If you look at Coach [Mike] Shanahan’s rap sheet, rushing the ball is what his teams do, and for us to be able to get to that (thousand yards), it’s a big testament,” Williams added.

Added wide receiver Josh Morgan: “I had no doubt Alfred was gonna pick up that last first down. I thought he could score. He can gain 40 yards in a phone booth, just needs a crease. That fumble motivated him to dominate even more than he already was.

Griffin knelt on the following play, and Washington celebrated a much-needed victory that improved their record to 6-6, marking their first three-game winning streak since 2008.

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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