EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Sept. 19 -- When Joe Gibbs scrutinized game film of Clinton Portis after being hired by the Washington Redskins, the coach was impressed at how the 5-foot-11, 205-pounder fought forward on every carry. Portis runs with violence associated with bulkier tailbacks. Despite his aggressive style, the third-year veteran seldom fumbled while becoming one of the league's premier rushers. It was the last thing that Gibbs worried about before shipping Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey to the Denver Broncos for Portis in a blockbuster trade this past offseason.
But during the Redskins' seven-turnover, 20-14 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday, Portis fumbled twice -- "fluke fumbles," he said -- to snap a streak of 279 touches without turning over the ball with a fumble.
Redskins' Clinton Portis kneels after the Giants returned his fumble for a touchdown in the second quarter.
(John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
"Fumbles happen. That's what the defensive players get paid for," said Portis, donning a brown hat to match a pinstripe suit and yellow shirt in the visitor's locker room. "There's no need for me to sit here [sadly]: 'Oh, I had the streak over. I have to start fresh.' "
During a season-opening 16-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Portis was brilliant, gaining 148 yards on 29 carries and opening the scoring with a 64-yard touchdown run.
But Sunday, Portis finished with only 69 yards on 20 carries to halt a seven-game streak of at least 100 rushing yards. Portis had two catches for 29 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown catch, but he dropped a few passes that could have gone for long gains. And even on the touchdown reception, which cut New York's lead to 20-14, Portis drew a 15-yard penalty for taunting.
During his postgame news conference, Gibbs didn't single out any player for criticism.
"It's not any one person. It's all of us," Gibbs said. "All of us were together on it, including me."
Left tackle Chris Samuels said: "Every now and then guys are going to have tough games. But we love [Portis]. We know he's going to win a lot of games in the future for us."
Last season, Portis amassed 1,591 yards on 290 carries and fumbled only three times. Sunday, he had almost a season's worth of lost balls.
The game was tied at 7 midway through the second quarter when the Redskins had the ball on their 19-yard line with a third and one. Portis rushed behind left guard Derrick Dockery and dived into a pile of oncoming Giants players. The ball slipped out after Portis, who lost three yards on the play, bumped into safety Shaun Williams.
"It was just fluke fumbles," Portis said. "It wasn't any spectacular plays by them. . . . The ball shouldn't have slipped out."
Linebacker Barrett Green picked the ball up and rambled 16 yards into the end zone, giving the Giants a 14-7 lead and sending the crowd of 78,767 into a tizzy.
After such a gaffe, it would seem that Portis could be counted on for going several games before another fumble. But he fumbled again on Washington's opening drive of the second half.
The Redskins had a second and 16 from the New York 30-yard line. Portis took a handoff from Patrick Ramsey, who had entered the game after quarterback Mark Brunell strained his left hamstring. Portis was stuffed in the backfield by cornerback Will Peterson. The ball was knocked loose on a hit that didn't look particularly hard.
"I was actually changing hands," Portis said, "and the guy just stuck his hand there and it came out. It happens."
Defensive end Osi Umenyiora picked up the ball and ran 19 yards before being pushed out of bounds by wide receiver James Thrash. This time, the Giants failed to capitalize, as Steve Christie missed a 51-yard field goal.
Perhaps the best aspect of Portis's performance Sunday was his blocking. He made several hard blocks befitting an offensive lineman. During the series of Portis's second fumble, the Redskins had the ball on third and 10 from their 15-yard line. Brunell sprinted down the left sideline after his receivers were covered. Portis sent cornerback Terry Cousin backward on a vicious hit, giving Brunell enough room for a 21-yard gain.
"If you sleep on him, he'll hit you hard," Samuels said. "Any time you have a running back blocking like that, it makes you want to block even harder because he's not selfish."
Portis, who is a good receiver, didn't get an opportunity to display his pass-catching skills for much of the game. Because of constant blitzes by New York's linebackers on pass plays, Portis stayed near the line of scrimmage to block. On second and nine from the New York 13-yard line early in the fourth quarter, the Giants didn't send any pass rushers toward Ramsey. Portis executed a crisp route down the middle of the end zone. He leapt high to snag Ramsey's pass before being forced out of bounds. After the catch, Portis spiked the ball near safety Brent Alexander, a visceral reaction to his earlier gaffes. But the referee issued an unsportsmanlike penalty.
"I wasn't spiking the ball in his face," Portis said. "I was just glad to come out of the slump. The offense needed a touchdown and we were all excited."