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A Running Game That Isn't

Offensive Line, Redskins' Portis Grind to a Halt

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 11, 2004; Page D16

All Clinton Portis needed was one yard. The Redskins running back was that close to gaining a first down, sustaining a drive and, perhaps, giving the Baltimore Ravens defense some reason to think Washington might actually be able to run the ball against them last night.

Baltimore safety Ed Reed had just returned a fumble for a touchdown, cutting Washington's lead to 10-7 midway through the third quarter at FedEx Field, and the Redskins were in dire need of a first down on the ensuing drive. So Coach Joe Gibbs went to his Pro Bowl running back on three straight plays, and on third and 1 from the 35, Portis took the handoff and tried to barge up the middle.

Clinton Portis has 111 yards on 45 carries in the past two weeks. "He can't take personal responsibility," Chris Samuels said. "We're a team in this." (Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

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Chris Cooley one of few pleasant surprises for the Redskins' offense.
Clinton Portis continues a troubling start to his tenure in Washington.
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Ravens sign Pro Bowl corner Chris McAlister to a seven-year contract.
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Before he could blink, however, Portis was nailed by Reed for a two-yard loss. The Ravens returned the punt for a touchdown and dominated the Redskins for the remainder of the contest, easing to a 17-10 win. Portis continued what has been a troubling start to his tenure in Washington, carrying 25 times for 53 yards -- a 2.1 average -- while Baltimore runner Jamal Lewis pummeled Washington in the second half and finished with 116 yards rushing.

Last Sunday in Cleveland, Portis gained just 58 yards on 20 carries and committed a fumble that triggered the Browns' comeback victory, then said he took personal responsibility for the defeat. But last night Portis declined to comment, and he has not spoken to the Washington media since claiming the Browns knew what plays the Redskins were calling in Cleveland, leading to a harsh response from Joe Bugel, assistant head coach-offense. Bugel said this past week that they had resolved their differences.

This has clearly been Portis's worst week since being acquired from Denver for Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey in the offseason, and in fact, was the worst week of his career, as he was held below 60 yards in consecutive starts for the first time. He was supposed to be the focal point of the attack -- the dynamic runner Gibbs's coveted to implement his grinding approach -- but since taking his first carry 64 yards for a touchdown Portis has been largely unproductive, something Washington's offensive linemen believe is at least as much their fault as his.

"We just ain't doing what it takes right now as a whole," right tackle Kenyatta Jones said of the team's running game. "We've got to keep grinding it out. We're not playing Redskin football."

"He can't take personal responsibility," left tackle Chris Samuels said. "We're a team in this. He made some errors and we all make errors out there. We have to stay in this together, though. You can't just base everything on one or two plays. I admire him for stepping up and putting things on his shoulders, but at the same, we're a team. . . . We've gotta work harder up front for him."

Gibbs has been befuddled by the running woes, which are a major contributor to the team's 1-4 record and four straight defeats. "Overall, I think on offense we haven't gotten the job done," Gibbs said after the latest setback. Washington has not run for 100 yards as a team in three straight weeks -- Gibbs's teams routinely averaged over 125 yards per game during his first stint with the team from 1981-1992 -- and has not been able to run with any consistency up the middle, which is the essence of the offense.

"Clinton's mad at himself, but it's a team thing," H-back Chris Cooley said. "We're all frustrated and we have to turn it around together."

Portis, who had never gone more than two games without rushing for 100 yards before this four-game slide, gained a total of three yards on four carries over the final 20 minutes of last night's game; on eight of his 25 carries he was held to no gain or hit for negative yardage and he has not gained so much as 20 yards on a carry since Week 2. Portis's speed and big-play ability were his biggest assets during two seasons in Denver, where he ran for more than 1,500 yards last season, but the Ravens' stout run defense was all over him last night.

After allowing Kansas City running back Priest Holmes to run for more than 100 yards last week, Baltimore Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis proclaimed, "Portis isn't Priest." Portis shot back during an interview on Sirius Radio a few days later, saying there was "nothing impressive" about Baltimore's defense, but Lewis, a fellow University of Miami product, got the final word last night.

"Everybody knows what we do to good running backs," Lewis said.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company