Redskins and Broncos Find There's No Trade-Off

In his two years in Denver, Clinton Portis had back-to-back 1,500-yard seasons, with 18 100-yard games. In Washington, he has had six 100-yard games.
In his two years in Denver, Clinton Portis had back-to-back 1,500-yard seasons, with 18 100-yard games. In Washington, he has had six 100-yard games. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

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By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 9, 2005

DENVER The Denver Broncos were reeling. Playing at home three weeks ago, with a capacity crowd crammed into one of the noisiest stadiums in the NFL, the only sound the Broncos heard as they headed to the locker room at halftime were boos cascading from every corner of Invesco Field. They trailed the San Diego Chargers 14-3 and were looking like a team only two quarters away from an 0-2 start.

It took only one play to reverse that trend -- the very first play from scrimmage in the second half. Cornerback Champ Bailey had done his homework on San Diego quarterback Drew Brees, and when he saw the offensive formation the Chargers had deployed, he knew exactly where Brees was going to throw the football. Playing well off the intended receiver, at the snap of the ball Bailey jumped the pass route, intercepted Brees's throw and went 25 yards for a touchdown many Broncos believe turned around the game. Whether it changed the season remains to be seen.

"That's why you pay a guy that type of money," Denver Coach Mike Shanahan said after Denver's 20-17 victory. "He has those instincts. . . . That's what great players do."

Added running back Mike Anderson: "What changed our season? Champ. That interception gave us a sense of hope. And if you believe, anything can happen."

The Broncos have won three straight since a season-opening upset loss in Miami and take a 3-1 record into their game Sunday against the 3-0 Washington Redskins, Bailey's team for the first five years of his career. A controversial trade after the 2003 season sent Bailey and Washington's second-round choice in the 2004 draft to Denver for another Pro Bowl player, running back Clinton Portis. Sunday will mark the first time the teams have played each other in the regular season since that deal.

While the Broncos made it to the playoffs with Bailey a year ago, the Redskins struggled on offense in Portis's first season in Washington and finished 6-10. Though Portis went 64 yards for a touchdown his on first carry last year and gained 1,315 yards, he only had five rushing touchdowns and has none this season. In his first two years in Denver, Portis ran for 29 scores and had back-to-back 1,500-yard seasons, with 18 100-yard games in his 29 starts. In Washington, he has had six 100-yard games in 18 starts.

The consensus around the NFL is that both teams benefited from the trade, but the Broncos probably have had the better of the deal so far, if only because of that extra second-round pick in the draft. Denver used that choice, the 41st overall, to select Oklahoma State's Tatum Bell, now a key man in the team's running back-by-committee approach. Bell has Portis-like explosive speed and elusive moves.

"On the surface, Denver did better because they got a Pro Bowl corner and a second-round pick," one AFC general manager said. "They gave up a pretty good back, but they've always proven they can win with any number of running backs. They did it last year and they're doing it again now."

In Bailey, the Broncos had their first Pro Bowl cornerback in 18 years, even though for the second straight season they were bounced from the playoffs by the Indianapolis Colts. Even with Bailey in the lineup last January, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning torched Denver for five touchdown passes, several on Bailey's side of the field, and Manning had an astounding 158.3 passer rating.

But the Broncos still believe Bailey's presence will pay off. They have a shutdown cornerback, perhaps the best corner in the NFL, capable of covering an opponent's lead receiver one-on-one. This allows more flexibility both in pass coverage as well as freeing another safety to help in run support. Bailey's single-coverage skills often allow the Broncos to put seven or eight men near the line of scrimmage to defend the run, as Portis likely will see often on Sunday.

"Their defense is definitely better because of" Bailey, said another AFC personnel director. "He makes plays a lot of corners can't. . . . If you have a shutdown corner, teams also have to go the other way, so you take away a good piece of the field. He makes the linebackers better, he makes the defensive line better."

Shanahan has been able to develop running backs. In his 11-year tenure with the Broncos, four backs (Terrell Davis, Anderson, Olandis Gary and Portis) selected after the first round have gained more than 1,000 yards in a season. He also has said one of the major reasons he wanted to make the trade for Bailey came from his recollection of the impact cornerback Deion Sanders had in 1994, when the 49ers added him and won their last Super Bowl, with Shanahan as their offensive coordinator.

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