By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 4, 2006
There was never a time Sunday when Ladell Betts felt like the Atlanta Falcons could corral him. The yards kept coming in bulk, often from zone-blocking plays directed at the right side of Atlanta's defense, and Betts did not stop running until he had set career highs for rushes and yards.
The Washington Redskins accomplished what they hoped to with the running game -- pounding the ball throughout -- and Betts showed again why his role continues to expand in this offense, but the physical display of power football was not enough to prevent another defeat. Betts ran 28 times for 155 yards (5.5 per carry) and a touchdown, and Washington rushed for 177 yards but fell, 24-14, to Atlanta at FedEx Field, unable yet again to string two victories together.
Betts has topped 100 yards in consecutive games with tailback Clinton Portis out for the season, and continues to impress the coaching staff.
"I thought he was more of a halfback when I came here, but he's answered the bell on everything we've asked him to do," Coach Joe Gibbs said, "kickoff returns and running with the ball from scrimmage and also he's a very good a pass receiver. Ladell has been a real bright spot for us."
Betts, a free agent at the end of the season who has been negotiating a contract extension with the team since the preseason, has stepped up well when Portis has been injured the past three years. A 2002 second-round draft pick, Betts leads the team with 141 carries for 643 yards this season (4.6 per carry), having by far his most productive season with four games still to play. The Redskins very much want to keep him here, and he is the most versatile back on the roster.
On Sunday, he ran with passion behind an offensive line getting a chance to do what it enjoys most -- execute crease and stretch plays, with the tailback heading in one direction, then cutting back the other way. The tactic was highly effective in a win over Carolina a week ago and exposed Atlanta's defense repeatedly.
"It's tough to remember" running better than he did yesterday, Betts said. "I mean, I felt good today. The guys put a hat on the hat of the linemen and blocked well. And big [fullback] Mike [Sellers] was in front of me and [tight end Chris] Cooley, they would seal the edges and I was just cutting back and we were just picking up big chunks at a time. We ran a lot of crease stuff, and just kept gashing them."
Betts was a bulldozer from the opening drive. The Redskins, having rededicated themselves to the run game, and rushed on eight of the first nine plays, which Betts capped with an eight-yard touchdown run behind a thumping block from Sellers. The Redskins went ahead 14-0 on their second drive, and Betts had already rushed nine times for 56 yards at that point.
"We were running the ball really well," reserve running back Rock Cartwright said. "We were really physical with those guys, and . . . the first two drives we came out and put the ball down their throat."
But after the Redskins' defense, which conceded 256 yards on the ground, made a critical stop on fourth and inches around midfield, Saunders called two passes and a reverse on the ensuing drive, Washington punted for the first time, and the tenor of the game had changed. "It was rolling, so why stop it?" Cartwright said of the running game.
Overall, the coaches stuck with the running game more than in the past, even when trailing, and the Redskins held the ball for nearly 32 minutes, but it was all for naught. They could not get back in the end zone, and Betts's career game ended in defeat.
"When you're that productive, you would expect to score more points," Saunders said. "That's the disappointing thing."