By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday that running back Clinton Portis's status for tomorrow's game against the Dallas Cowboys would be downgraded to doubtful and that Ladell Betts would start. The announcement ushered in a new round of confusion regarding Portis's status as he recovers from a shoulder injury he suffered during the team's first preseason game more than a month ago.
"He didn't practice, so we'll probably downgrade him," Gibbs said. "It's really just because of soreness. We haven't been able to get the soreness out. It's actually in a different spot in his shoulder. I think it's an issue where he's got some soreness that lingered and kept him from practicing this week, so we'll downgrade him."
But for the second consecutive week, Gibbs and his star running back did not communicate the same message about his health. After practice, Portis expressed surprise when informed that he could be kept out of tomorrow's game.
"I can't do anything but tell you to wait until Sunday. This bag is going to Dallas," Portis said. "We've seen some miracle days happen. This isn't a situation for me not to be playing."
Portis said he felt that the Redskins coaches assumed he felt worse physically than last week. "I think that's what they're thinking, but man, I'll tell you, I eat gunpowder twice a day now," he said. "As long as I'm on this gunpowder, I think I'm going to be all right."
Portis, who rushed for a Redskins-record 1,516 yards last season, said for most of last week before Monday night's game that his injured left shoulder would prevent him from playing in the home opener against the Minnesota Vikings. Then Portis ran onto the field with 3 minutes 34 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Wearing a special harness that limited the mobility of his left shoulder, he rushed 10 times for 39 yards and scored the Redskins' only touchdown in a 19-16 loss.
Before the Minnesota game, Portis said it was unlikely that he would play while Gibbs said Portis had increased his workload and that he wasn't ruling him out.
The intrigue about Portis's health appears in part to be gamesmanship on the Redskins' part to keep Dallas off-balance, but it is difficult to say how much so. Because Redskins practices are closed except for stretching drills, it is unclear just how much Portis practiced this week. On yesterday's injury report, Portis was listed as having missed at least a portion of every practice this week. Though Portis was in helmet and pads yesterday, Gibbs said he did not practice with the team.
Gibbs said last week that Portis practiced a basically normal schedule, and he appeared in the Vikings game. Yesterday, Gibbs said because Portis didn't practice this week, he likely would not play in Dallas.
"If a guy doesn't practice, he's not going to play, so we'll downgrade him," Gibbs said. "He'll probably tell me he can play on game day, but he didn't practice so we'll move him down accordingly."
But Portis said his practice schedule this week was no different than last.
"I ran a few routes, not much, the same thing I did last week," he said, adding that the confusion over his status was surprising.
"I didn't know anything about it," Portis said about being downgraded. "I don't make the decisions around here. The best way to say it is that I'm a game-time decision. Clinton Portis is on his P's and Q's."
Earlier in the week, the Redskins had listed Portis as questionable, which by NFL rules means he had a 50-50 chance of playing against Dallas. By shifting his status to doubtful, Portis now has a 25 percent chance of playing, according to NFL rules.
Betts rushed eight times for 22 yards against the Vikings on Monday; his longest gain was seven yards. He also caught three passes for 31 yards, including a 25-yarder.
The Redskins also have bruising back T.J. Duckett, acquired late last month from the Atlanta Falcons. His arrival appeared to signal caution on the part of the Redskins with regard to Portis's health, meaning had Portis's injury kept him from playing, the running game would have insurance in the form of a capable, veteran back whose punishing style provided a contrast to the slashing Betts. Duckett wound up in uniform but did not play against Minnesota.