By Mike Wise
Monday, November 5, 2007
Everybody's favorite Redskin to pick on all week lowered his head and shoulder, churned his legs forward and, with the help of a sure-footed kid from Canada, won a must-win game. Clinton Portis slung his team over his shoulder. Just like he said he would.
"I am going to carry 'em," Portis said Thursday, the confidence tumbling out after a long talk with Coach Joe Gibbs on the practice field. "I know it's on me to carry 'em. So, I'm ready for that role and that position."
One-hundred-ninety-six yards on 36 carries, the fifth-most yards by a running back in team history.
A go-ahead, leap over the goal line in the fourth quarter, one of 108 second-half yards.
Six rugged carries and 37 yards in overtime, which set up Shaun Suisham's scintillating game-winning field goal.
C.P. is ready? He's ready.
Is it too much to ask his harshest detractors to just hush their mouths for one week? It's the least they can do after forecasting Portis's demise the past month and a half.
Portis won a game the Redskins had to win at the Meadowlands to keep faith alive at the halfway point of the season. He did it at the end of a week in which his effectiveness and importance to the team were severely questioned.
He's done. That's all that could be heard. Running backs have short shelf-lives in the NFL. Clinton Portis is an old 26. He can't break off the big runs like he used to.
Heading into Sunday's game against the Jets, the fashionable theme was to point out how well the Redskins ran the ball with Ladell Betts a year ago, how nicked-up and bruised Portis was, how his days as a big-time back were numbered.
Even Joe Bugel put the blame on his offensive line, but no one wanted to listen to Buges's solid logic regarding Portis when he said: "Two years ago he was a 1,500-yard back, so you don't want to throw him under the bus. We gotta block better, that's the bottom line."
When that happened, when Chris Samuels and Pete Kendall and Casey Rabach and their teammates moved their counterparts off the ball, Portis suddenly looked young and spry again. He had room to move and cut. It's no wonder Portis was one of several players who spoke up at a meeting among offensive players and coaches last Monday after the debacle in New England.
His message: " 'Run some plays I like to run.' That's what he said," Samuels said. "If we execute them, he said he would do the rest. And he did."
One Portis jaunt went for 32 yards, the longest run by the Redskins this season. It was the kind of run Portis's career used to be filled with until injuries killed last season for him and knee tendinitis led to an agonizingly slow start this season.
"Two years ago I was finishing them runs," he said. "When I get to that point, you might as well aim toward the pylon and meet me down there.
"If you look around the league, the best example of that right now is Adrian Peterson. When he get out in the open field, he finishes. I have to get back to finishing those."
Actually, the breakaway speed isn't what broke the Jets' will. There was a second and 10 from the Redskins 33-yard line that proved monstrous in overtime. Moments after Jason Campbell overthrew Santana Moss deep downfield, Portis found a seam along the right end and rumbled for 10 yards and a first down -- erasing the possibility of a pressurized third down for the Redskins in their own territory.
He went around the left end for 17 yards two plays later, which put Washington down to the 38-yard line of the Jets. He moved it two yards closer for Suisham on his final run, and that was the game. The moment that ball trickled through the uprights, Gibbs had to feel a little bit of vindication.
The coach always takes heat for having different rules for Portis, for not insisting he practice during training camp while nursing tendinitis in his knee, for not making Portis suit up for at least one preseason game. And the logic behind it is that Gibbs would have never done this in the past, that's he's become a namby-pamby senior citizen who's mellowed so much he now caters too much to his players.
Silly, no, that these are the same people who say Gibbs can't adapt, can't change his old-fangled methods? So which is it?
The reason Gibbs treats Portis differently is because Portis is a stone-cold player when he puts his pads on, a guy who blocks as hard as he runs. "After you get past all the joking with Clinton and all, he's a football player," Gibbs said Sunday. "Period."
When it comes to Portis, people confuse the terms "prima donna" and "diva." He's got a little diva in him, but just because he refers to himself in the third person does not mean Clinton Portis is all about Clinton Portis.
"A prima donna doesn't go after someone with the ball like Clinton does, doesn't stay back in pass protection to block as hard as he does," Gibbs said. "That doesn't apply to him at all. He's unselfish, that's what Clinton is. People get a different impression of him because of the jokes. That's not who he is as a football player."
And how does Portis reward Gibbs's faith in him? He saves his coach's hide in a game that could have been a defining loss in Gibbs's second tenure with the Redskins.
Thanks to the rebirth of the running game -- really, the rebirth of Portis as a player who can carry a team -- Gibbs's Redskins are 5-3, just a game behind the New York Giants in the NFC East.
No wonder Joe Gibbs and Clinton Portis are bonding after practice these days, no doubt figuring out ways to shut all their critics up.