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Redskins Get Running Start

Portis Opens With 64-Yard TD

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 13, 2004; Page D01

The roars from the crowd of 90,098 began when Coach Joe Gibbs trotted out of the tunnel for warmups, wearing a black Washington Redskins cap, sunglasses and a steely expression to hide his bubbling emotions at his first NFL regular season game after missing 11 seasons. Fans cheered wildly as the Redskins huddled near the end zone before stretching. They even applauded the coin flip.

By opening kickoff, FedEx Field was rocking with the largest crowd for a Redskins home game in its eight-year history, and the Redskins responded with a stirring 16-10 opening-day victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers behind a virtuoso performance by tailback Clinton Portis and the swarming, blitz-happy defense concocted by Gregg Williams.

Joe Gibbs makes a successful return to the sidelines, winning his 125th career game as the team's coach. "It was huge for me. I can tell you that." (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)

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"I'm absolutely thrilled. I don't think we could have fought any harder," Gibbs said afterward, his voice hoarse. "I gotta tell you, both teams were laying it out there as hard as they could. It was huge for me. I can tell you that. And I think it was for our players, too."

Yesterday's storybook ending -- or new beginning -- came with the run-heavy approach that Gibbs used to win three Super Bowls with the Redskins from 1981 to 1992. On 29 carries, Portis exhibited power-back moves despite his scatback physique to finish with 148 of Washington's 166 rushing yards. On his first carry, Portis darted 64 yards to open the scoring after the offensive line created a gaping hole.

"We're going to see if he's going to take us out to eat," said right guard Randy Thomas, alluding to the offensive line's strong play. "I hope it's not a buffet. I want to sit down."

Said Gibbs: "Portis is a tough guy. He's going to be a heck of a Redskin."

But after a fast start, Washington's offense sputtered and the Redskins needed John Hall's 30-yard field goal to snap a tie at 10 with 8 minutes 55 seconds left to take the lead for good.

The hard-fought victory was the 500th in Redskins franchise history, and Gibbs is responsible for exactly a quarter of them.

Williams -- Washington's assistant head coach-defense -- sent pressure from every angle to confound Tampa Bay veteran quarterback Brad Johnson. Washington's defense, led by safety Matt Bowen, allowed the Bucs only 169 total yards, including just 30 rushing yards. Bowen ended the game with two sacks. The Bucs were held without an offensive touchdown and didn't produce their initial first down until midway through the second quarter.

Fans started a rhythmic chant of "defense" moments after Tampa Bay elected to receive the opening kickoff. And the defensive unit responded, setting up two of Washington's three field goals with turnovers. "I can't take any of the credit for that," Gibbs said. "All I do is run down there and scream, 'Stop 'em.' "

Cornerback Fred Smoot, who sparkled yesterday, said: "We dictate to the offense. We don't wait to take punches."

The outcome wasn't decided until late in the fourth quarter, with the Redskins ahead 13-10. With 2:30 left, Washington had a third down on the Tampa Bay 28-yard line, needing one yard for a first down. Portis took the handoff, burst up the middle and suddenly shifted right to shake a defender before sliding for a six-yard gain.

Five plays later, Hall kicked a 34-yard field goal with 16 seconds left for the final score.

During training camp, Gibbs kept his offensive schemes under wraps, closing many of the team's practices and showing little during its five preseason games. That changed early in the game yesterday.

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