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Groundbreaking Effort

Portis, Offense Get Started Early As the Redskins Run Over Giants

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 6, 2004; Page D01

Tailback Clinton Portis stood on the sideline, helmet in hand, sweating profusely from five consecutive carries on Washington's opening drive in which he wriggled through holes against the New York Giants. A trainer wiped Portis's face before handing him a Gatorade for a swig. Then Portis dashed back into the huddle to continue where he left off.

After bursting into the end zone to punctuate Washington's longest drive of the season, Portis appeared too exhausted to celebrate. But after returning to a run-heavy approach, the Redskins did plenty of dancing in the end zone yesterday during a 31-7 victory over the Giants at FedEx Field in Washington's first offensive explosion of the season.

New York quarterback Eli Manning is sacked by Phillip Daniels in the first quarter Sunday. Daniels had to leave the game later in the first half. (Joe Giza - Reuters)

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Washington entered the game as the only NFL team not to score more than 18 points in a game this season. The Redskins ended the ignominy by halftime, taking a 21-0 lead behind their typically stingy defense, Portis's shifty runs and a splendid performance by quarterback Patrick Ramsey in his third start since replacing Mark Brunell.

"After a couple of weeks of us not doing more with the running game I think he [Portis] was really fired up, and he produced," said Gibbs, who won his first NFC East game this season after three losses as Washington (4-8) snapped a three-game losing streak. "And then it was kind of all the way across the board. Just a lot of things that hadn't been going well for us during the year, it went well for us tonight. Can we do it more than once? That's the question now."

The Redskins seemed to undergo a transformation against a normally solid Giants defense: wideouts who had been dropping passes regularly were sure-handed and the offensive line treated New York's defensive linemen like rag dolls to create holes for Portis.

The Redskins, who entered the game averaging an NFL-worst 12.5 points per game, ended up with 379 net offensive yards yesterday. In an offense that displayed uncharacteristic precision and smart play-calling, Portis rushed 31 times for 148 yards, including only his third rushing score of the season, and Ramsey was 19 of 22 for 174 yards and three touchdowns. He didn't throw an interception. Ramsey looked like a different quarterback than the one who made his first appearance this season in Week 2 against the Giants and threw three interceptions in less than a half during a 20-14 loss after replacing an injured Brunell.

"Not only is it easy to give him [Portis] the ball and let him do his thing," Ramsey said, "but it also makes your job easy to drop back there to pass. . . . It may have been the best I've felt in the pocket as a Redskin, really, just reading things, seeing things."

Washington's defense -- the highlight of what has been a dreary season -- confounded Giants rookie quarterback Eli Manning in only his third NFL start. The unit, which had been ranked No. 2 in the 32-team league, shut down the Giants' offense by limiting its best hope, running back Tiki Barber, to 38 yards on 15 carries.

The Giants didn't score until 5 minutes 25 seconds remained in the third quarter, when Derrick Ward returned a kickoff 92 yards to trim the Redskins lead to 24-7.

The main difference this game for Washington's defense was how little it was on the field, as the Redskins more than doubled New York's time of possession: 40:29 to 19:31.

"I haven't had this much rest not just this season but in my career," said defensive end Renaldo Wynn. "One drive, they [the offense] were on the field for an entire quarter. Geeze, I'm over there trying to do a Jane Fonda workout to stay warm."

The offensive showing was the paradigm Gibbs envisioned after returning to the NFL following an 11-year hiatus: running behind Portis, allowing his quarterback to exploit play-action and limiting the time on the field for a sturdy defense.

"When you can win games like this," Ramsey said, "it reinforces the way the coach wants to play."

Gibbs entered the game having called 300 passes vs. 170 runs this season largely because the Redskins almost always fell behind early. The disparity was compounded last week, when Portis carried only six times for 17 yards while backup Ladell Betts had a team-high eight carries for 34 yards. Gibbs was forced to spend much of the week publicly insisting he was committed to Portis, who Washington signed to a $50.5 million contract in March.

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