By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 8, 2006
TAMPA, Jan. 7 -- An hour removed from a game that simultaneously exhilarated and disappointed him, Clinton Portis stepped in front of a dozen video cameras and momentarily lowered his head in reflection.
His postgame analysis sounded more like a confessional.
For five minutes, Portis spoke mainly of regrets: He had had trouble finding holes; he ran with too little purpose, battled constant aching in his shoulders and failed to break a big play; he never managed to ignite the offense.
The running back, though, said all of that with cool indifference.
"We need to move the ball better," Portis said. "But all that matters is the final score. And we won."
Saturday night, Portis and his offensive teammates relied constantly on that fact -- a 17-10 win over Tampa Bay -- to absolve them. No matter that the Washington Redskins set an NFL record for fewest total yards (120) for a team that won a playoff game. No matter that Portis's streak of five consecutive 100-yard rushing games ended with a thud (53 yards), or that Mark Brunell completed only seven passes.
Because the Redskins won, players said, ugly statistics hardly mattered and futility could be joked about.
"Honestly, we couldn't move the ball at all," wide receiver Santana Moss said. "It was like: 'Man, we need to get moving. We need to get first downs. We just need something.' This was about the worst for us on offense -- and now I don't really have to care."
The offense that started with Portis for the last several weeks stopped with Portis against the Buccaneers. The tailback came into the game riding his hottest streak during two seasons in Washington. His five 100-yard games at the end of the regular season propelled him to a Redskins season rushing record (1,516). Portis came into Saturday's game confident, teammates said, that he could run all over Tampa Bay, too.
The Buccaneers, though, immediately made it clear that this defense played differently. Portis ran four times on Washington's first possession -- and gained a total of three yards. The running back later said he hurt his shoulders early in the game, causing him to play sparingly the rest of the way.
"My shoulders were killing me," Portis said. "But Tampa has a great defense, and that is what great teams do."
Said Washington guard Ray Brown: "They did a great job around the line of scrimmage. That defense really is the best in the league. They get a great push, and they close holes fast. You're not going to get much against them, no matter how good you are."
Tampa Bay allowed Portis only one highlight. Midway through the first quarter -- after a LaVar Arrington interception gave Washington the ball at the Buccaneers 6 -- Portis took a handoff and bounced out to the left. He dodged a tackler, headed for the outside pylon and jogged into the end zone for Washington's first score.
"That touchdown got it going," Portis said. "Next week we're going to have to have more of that. We need to find a way to move the ball more effectively.
"This type of game won't get it done."
The Redskins will never want to look back at a copy of Saturday's box score. Their ball-control offense held the ball for slightly more than 25 minutes. Nobody caught more than two passes. Brunell threw for 41 yards.
The ineptitude spread so completely, though, that it made for great postgame banter. Standing near his locker after the game, Moss pointed to Ladell Betts.
According to the Redskins' typical offensive game plan, Betts -- a backup running back -- should have helped attract Tampa Bay defenders to the line of scrimmage, therefore opening up the field for Moss.
"You didn't really help me out," Moss said to Betts.
"Hey, man, you didn't help me either," Betts replied.
They both laughed.