By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 14, 2005
A few days before the Redskins played the Seattle Seahawks, running back Clinton Portis was asked if he was having difficulty not peeking ahead to the next game, when he would be facing his former team, the Denver Broncos, for the first time since being traded to Washington after the 2003 season.
No, Portis said then, the game he actually was looking forward to was against another team, one he wouldn't name. Asked if that team's initials happened to be K.C., Portis smiled and nodded. No one had to ask why.
In his first two seasons with the Broncos, Portis faced the Kansas City Chiefs, the Redskins' opponent Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, four times. In three of those games, he rushed for 130 or more yards. In 16 quarters against the Chiefs -- long an AFC West rival of the Broncos' -- he rushed for 559 yards in 81 carries, a 6.9-yard average, and scored 11 touchdowns (10 rushing). The last time he faced Kansas City, on Dec. 7, 2003, he had a career day with 218 yards rushing and a franchise record five touchdowns at Invesco Field.
That also was the day Portis broke out "The Belt," designed for him by a Denver hip-hop artist to duplicate a gaudy championship boxing belt, and he wore it while strutting on the sideline in the final minutes of Denver's 45-27 victory. Portis knows some of the Chiefs probably remember that game but said this week that "the belt is retired."
"They never got the opportunity to pay me back for that, so I'm looking forward to it," said Portis, who is listed as probable with a calf injury. "They're going to have some problems this week. I'm going to come in there with my hard hat on and go to work."
Portis also insisted he did not wear the belt to show up the Chiefs.
"At that time, probably myself, [Chiefs running back] Priest Holmes and [Chargers running back LaDainian] Tomlinson were really hot at the time that happened. I think I had out-rushed them every game that season. I always felt those were some of the best backs in the league, so having that showdown with Priest and Kansas City being 11-1 [at the time], I knew the stage was perfect to do it."
On Sunday, Portis hopes to offer up another virtuoso performance against a Chiefs defense that is ranked seventh against the rush in the NFL, allowing only 94 yards a game. The Redskins are averaging 133.5 yards a game on the ground, and Portis is on pace for a 1,400-plus-yard rushing season, with 366 yards in 83 carries, averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
Still, Portis comes into Sunday's game without a rushing touchdown this season, playing for a team that also hasn't scored on the ground in four games. A back who posted 29 rushing touchdowns in his first two seasons in Denver, Portis has only three in his last 15 games in Washington, and none in his last six games.
A year ago, Washington was tied for last place in the NFL with only six rushing touchdowns in 16 games, a trend that has continued this season. The Redskins also are 27th in the league in red zone offense; in 11 possessions inside the 20, they've only scored four touchdowns and four field goals.
Portis insisted this week he's not all that concerned about any of that, even if he's had five chances with the ball from inside the 5-yard line this season and totaled only three yards in those carries.
"I know it's coming," he said. "Right now, I'm just in grind session and I'm just going to grind it out. This is like with anything, once it starts happening, you can't stop it. You just have to get it to start happening. I'm plugging away and taking what I can get right now. Eventually the 50-, 60-, 70-yard runs, they will be back."
Joe Bugel, the team's assistant head coach and offensive line coach, admitted yesterday that the Redskins' inability to score from close in "is definitely a concern for all of us. We want to have rushing touchdowns in the red zone. It gives you a sense of pride when you can do it consistently. Joe [Gibbs] made a strong emphasis on it this morning. A lot of times, it's just an attitude thing down there. We're not that far away.
"When you get that close, there's 22 players bunched up in there, and one of them is your quarterback, and he's not gonna block for you. The back has to understand that a lot of times he has to be his own blocker and get it done himself. It's gonna happen for [Portis]. It's just a matter of being patient."
"Clinton is an awesome back," said tackle Chris Samuels. "We obviously want to get rushing touchdowns, and we will. We're not worried about it, and nobody is panicking. I talked to Clinton after a game when he didn't get in [to the end zone] a couple of times and told him to keep his head up. Clinton said, 'Hey, man, as long as we're winning, that's all I care about.' "
Portis also is getting more involved in the short passing attack, and so far has demonstrated that he's more than willing to help protect quarterback Mark Brunell when opponents blitz.
"That certainly comes as no surprise to us," Brunell said. "Even when he's not getting the ball, he's doing his job. If it's in pass protection, he's sticking his nose in there and many times going against defensive ends, guys who weigh 100 pounds more than he does. He's making some big plays [in passing situations]. We can always count on him to block for us."
Said Portis, "In this offense, I've taken on the role of whatever it takes to help this team win. It's not about me. Whatever you can do to help the team. You have to play without the ball. In this offense, you never know what could happen to spring someone. For myself, blocking and allowing Mark time to find Santana [Moss], David [Patten] has been helping us out."
Staff writer Jason La Canfora contributed to this report.