By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 24, 2007
MINNEAPOLIS, Dec. 23 -- It has been like old times recently for Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss and running back Clinton Portis.
Washington's top playmakers have hit their stride with the Redskins closing in on an NFC wild-card berth, and the big-play duo delivered again in a 32-21 victory over the Minnesota Vikings before a sellout crowd of 63,634 Sunday night at the Metrodome.
Hoping to start fast against a team they were pursuing in the wild-card chase, the Redskins led 22-0 at halftime and by 25 points late in the third quarter as Moss and Portis followed their strong performances in a win against the New York Giants with sharp outings.
With a victory next week over the Dallas Cowboys, the Redskins would clinch their first playoff berth since the 2005 season. Moss and Portis did a lot during that late-season playoff run too.
On Sunday, Moss teamed with quarterback Todd Collins on a 32-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. Portis, who was productive on rushing plays and as a receiver out of the backfield, threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Antwaan Randle El on a halfback option with less than a minute to play before halftime.
Then Portis and Moss made plays late in the game to help the Redskins seal the victory after the Vikings cut the lead to 25-14 early in the fourth. Collins impressed again during his second start in relief of injured quarterback Jason Campbell, and the Redskins were formidable defensively.
But Moss and Portis provided the extra spark Washington often has lacked this season while they struggled to regain form because of injuries.
"It feels good, and the best part about it is that we're closing games out," said Moss, who has been slowed because of hamstring, groin and heel injuries this season. "Closing the game means everything to this team because we weren't doing it earlier this year. Anytime you get a chance to make big plays, close a game with big plays, it feels great."
Moss had four receptions for 71 yards (a 17.8-yard average) and the touchdown. Portis, who missed the entire offseason and all but a week of training camp because of knee tendinitis, rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown in 20 carries, caught five passes for 48 yards and completed the touchdown to Randle El, who scored his first touchdown of the season.
"It's all about the players," associate head coach-offense Al Saunders said. "Those guys, for the most part, did what they were supposed to do tonight and did it in a winning fashion. Anytime you play like that, they deserve all the credit."
In 2005, the Redskins won their final five games in the regular season to qualify for the playoffs. Moss set a franchise receiving mark with 1,483 yards, and Portis established a team rushing record with 1,516 yards.
Moss and Portis did most of their best work in the first two quarters Sunday. Portis, who rushed for 126 yards in a 22-10 victory over the Giants Dec. 16, was effective running against the league's No.1 rush defense. The Redskins also used short passes to Portis as part of their overall strategy to extend drives.
"We knew that they were a salty group, number one against the run, and it was going to be a big challenge against these guys," Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels said. "We went out there and hit them early with some big passes, got some early scores, then late in the game we got them on some big plays to seal the victory.
"Santana and Clinton . . . both of those guys are playing their hearts out. They're just coming up with big plays. They're coming up with plays to help us win."
Against the Giants, Moss had 36- and 34-yard receptions in the second quarter that helped the Redskins score 10 points in taking a 16-3 halftime lead. In the second quarter against the Vikings, Moss beat rookie cornerback Marcus McCauley on a deep ball down the left sideline, leaping for a 32-yard touchdown as McCauley tried to locate the ball.
After Minnesota quarterback Tarvaris Jackson scored on a six-yard run to cut the lead to 25-14 with 10 minutes 18 seconds to play in the game, the Redskins went on a nine-play, 75-yard drive that Portis capped with a nifty 13-yard touchdown run. Moss made a spectacular 23-yard catch during the drive, toeing the left sideline for a first down.
"I've been saying to the receivers these past few games, 'It's going to have to go through us,' " Moss said. "We're not going to be able to run all the time, we're not going to be able to always sit back and pound, so when that ground game shuts down we have to make plays. Fortunately, we've been doing that."
Led by Pro Bowl defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, the Vikings had limited opponents to 67.9 yards rushing in their first 14 games. Coach Joe Gibbs, however, is committed to the run, so Saunders had to figure out how to move the ball on the ground, especially early in order to help the Redskins get off to a productive start.
Portis rushed for 39 yards on 10 carries in the first half, and the Redskins gained 43 yards on 17 rushes (a 2.5-yard average). But the Redskins also were effective throwing short passes to Portis, who consistently gained yards after the catch.
"The key tonight was the defense," Portis said. "The defense went out and played great, gave us the ball on a short field, and we just capitalized off of what the defense gave us. And then we finished. We weren't finishing earlier in the season, but tonight we did."