CLEVELAND, Oct. 3 -- After giving the Washington Redskins hope by practicing Friday -- his only workout of the week -- returner Chad Morton wasn't cleared to play against the Browns Sunday because of a sprained knee. James Thrash filled in as Washington's primary punt returner while Taylor Jacobs and Thrash shared the role of kickoff returner.
Morton was injured in the third quarter of Monday's 21-18 loss to the Dallas Cowboys when he was hit hard while returning a punt. Morton suffered a concussion on the tackle, which led to the knee sprain as he crumpled to the ground. Morton wasn't suffering any remnants of the concussion, he said, but the knee was still giving him problems.
Officials confer on second-quarter penalty. Redskins lost third-quarter challenge on play in which Clinton Portis fumbled.
(Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
Thrash returned three punts for 21 yards, and had a long of 12 yards. Thrash also returned two kicks for 31 yards. Washington's other two kick returns were by Ladell Betts (for 24 yards) and Mike Sellers (12 yards).
Portis Blames Himself
Clinton Portis blamed himself largely for Washington's poor start this season after losing another fumble during the Redskins' 17-13 loss to Cleveland.
During his first two NFL seasons, Portis was known for his ability to take a hit without giving up the ball. With Denver last season, Portis fumbled only three times and lost just one of them, a small amount for a running back who gets most of his team's carries. But Portis eclipsed that figure in Washington's second game, a 20-14 loss to the New York Giants when he lost two fumbles. Portis considered those fumbles flukes.
And on Sunday, Portis coughed up the ball again -- on the first play of the second half, with the Redskins up 10-3.
"I can't turn the ball over," said Portis, who had 58 yards on 20 carries. "That's not what I was brought here for. People are depending on me, and I have to step up to the plate."
Washington had a first and 10 from its 25-yard line when Portis dashed for four yards. Portis was hit hard by defensive lineman Michael Myers, and the ball squirted out as Portis landed on a Browns defensive player. Cleveland parlayed the gaffe into a touchdown four plays later when Jeff Garcia hit tight end Aaron Shea for a 15-yard touchdown pass.
Before Cleveland's drive, the Redskins challenged the play, hoping that the referees would rule Portis down before the fumble. But the Redskins lost the challenge and a timeout on the ruling. "I thought I was trying to get up off the pile," Portis said. "I thought I was down. They didn't see it that way. I just have to hold on to the ball."
Warner Forced Out
Washington's injury-plagued defensive line almost suffered another loss when defensive end Ron Warner was forced out the game twice, with a lower leg bruise and a twisted ankle. Warner was making only his second NFL start, replacing the injured Phillip Daniels.
Right offensive tackle Ray Brown strained his hamstring, forcing him to miss the second half. But Brown, 41, who started the past two games, said he expected to be healthy enough to play next week when the Redskins face the Ravens.
Wide receiver Darnerien McCants headlined a coterie of Redskins activated for the first time this season. The other players were tailback Rock Cartwright and tight end Brian Kozlowski. Cartwright played on special teams, but McCants and Kozlowski didn't play.
McCants was surprisingly on the inactive list the first two games despite signing a three-year, $4.5 million contract, which included a $2 million bonus, in the offseason. Last year, McCants tied Laveranues Coles with a team-high six touchdowns, making the most of 27 catches for 360 yards. After viewing tape of last season, Coach Joe Gibbs compared McCants to Art Monk, his former star receiver. But McCants appeared to be hindered because he's not a good practice player.
Lang Gets Cheers
Former Redskins defensive lineman Kenard Lang has been one of the few bright spots for the Browns this season. Lang, drafted No. 17 overall by Washington in 1997, entered the game with an AFC-best four sacks.
Lang finished with only two tackles Sunday, but one elicited loud cheers from the crowd. In the second quarter with the Redskins on second and 10 from the 23-yard line, Lang plunged into the backfield to halt Portis for a five-yard loss. Lang signed with the Browns as an unrestricted free agent in 2002.