By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 27, 2007
During the final seconds of the Washington Redskins' most important victory in two seasons, wide receiver Santana Moss and running back Clinton Portis enjoyed a private moment amid the celebration on the sideline. Longtime friends, they had earned the right to that time together.
Moss and Portis again led the Redskins as they continued their late-season playoff push, making big plays in a 32-21 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night at the Metrodome. The recent performances of Moss and Portis have coincided with a three-game winning streak that has put the Redskins on the verge of their first playoff berth since the 2005 season, and the veterans are carrying bigger loads off the field as well.
Inspired by the memory of former Redskins safety Sean Taylor, Moss and Portis have assumed more responsibility and leadership, many teammates said, since Taylor was killed by intruders last month in his Miami area home. Although the entire team has dedicated the season to Taylor, Moss and Portis have extra incentive to help the Redskins succeed because of the bond the three shared as players at the University of Miami.
With a victory over the Dallas Cowboys (13-2) on Sunday at FedEx Field, the Redskins (8-7) would advance to the playoffs, enabling Moss and Portis to attain a goal they set in the days following Taylor's death.
"Like all of us, Clinton and Santana really want to get in and do this thing for Sean, but with them all being from Miami, and as close as those guys were, I think they're carrying more on them to try to get it done," defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "Since that happened, since what happened to Sean, they have really stepped it up a lot. Clinton is running as hard as I've ever seen him run, he's looking like the young Clinton again, and Santana is catching everything. He's making great catches, going up over people, and you can just see something in both of those guys."
Against the Vikings, Moss and Portis played key roles as Washington took a 22-0 halftime lead and led by 25 points late in the third quarter. And after the Vikings cut the lead to 25-14 early in the fourth, Portis and Moss made plays late to help the Redskins seal the victory.
Moss had four receptions for 71 yards (a 17.8-yard average) and a 32-yard touchdown reception. Portis was effective running, receiving and passing. He rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, caught five passes for 48 yards and had a 15-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Antwaan Randle El on a halfback option.
"When you see the way those guys played, you can't help but be impressed," Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels said. "Minnesota is a really good team, and it can get loud [in the Metrodome], so you'd like to take the crowd out of it. Santana and Clinton got us going."
And they finished well, too. Portis's 13-yard touchdown run helped the Redskins take a 32-14 lead with 5 minutes 12 seconds left in the game. Portis stopped abruptly after breaking through the line and locating the only defender with a shot at him, then jogged into the end zone when the Vikings' player overran the play. Moss also made a spectacular 23-yard catch during the nine-play, 75-yard drive, toeing the left sideline for a first down.
In a 22-10 victory over the New York Giants on Dec. 16, Portis rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Moss had receptions of 36 and 34 yards in the first half that helped the Redskins score 10 points in taking a 16-3 halftime lead.
Portis, who missed the entire offseason and all but a week of training camp because of knee tendinitis, and Moss, slowed because of groin, hamstring and heel injuries throughou t the season, are "making the big plays we knew they would make in crunch time, but it's really bigger than that," right guard Randy Thomas said. "As far as getting guys ready, there's a lot of leadership coming out of them, a lot of life coming out of them. They're vocal.
"They're stressing their concerns and needs and being team guys. It's nothing about 'me,' it's all about the team with them. Santana has really opened my eyes. I'm not even playing and he's getting me fired up. He's talking about a lot of things and it's all football. With what happened . . . Sean is playing through those guys. They're playing hard for that guy."
At Redskins Park, the dressing stalls of Moss, Portis and Taylor are the first three to the left of the main entrance. After Taylor died Nov. 27, the Redskins put plexiglass in front of Taylor's stall and the small area serves as another reminder for Moss and Portis of the friend they lost and what they expect of themselves.
"I just try to go a little harder out there because I know that he's not here," Moss said.
When word emerged about the shooting early Nov. 26, it was Portis who took a leadership role among the players, meeting with reporters and joining a Redskins contingent that traveled to Florida that day aboard owner Daniel Snyder's private jet. Portis and Taylor were members of the Hurricanes' 2001 national championship team, and Taylor and Moss's younger brother, Sinorice, a New York Giants wide receiver, were teammates at Miami. Second-year linebacker Rocky McIntosh also attended Miami.
For days after Taylor's death, Moss and Portis answered reporters' questions about the effect on the team, which was struggling to remain in playoff contention.
The Redskins were 5-7 after losing four straight, but they did not give up despite losing Taylor and five starters with injuries. Moss and Portis would not let them quit, several players said, pushing the Redskins through the difficult times with their words and actions.
"I would definitely say there's been a difference," tackle Todd Wade said. "Those guys are always intense on game days, and now there's been a little more one-on-one interaction with them and their teammates. They've been more verbal."
But their production is what prompts the Redskins to listen when Moss and Portis speak.
"They really lead by example. I respect that more than anything," Samuels said. "You can get a lot of rah-rah guys speaking up, but if they're not making any plays, who's going to respect them?"
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 rushing record with 1,516 yards. This season, Portis leads the Redskins in rushing with 1,158 yards on 300 carries (a 3.9-yard average) and nine touchdowns. Moss, inactive for two games because of his groin and heel problems, has 53 receptions for 693 yards (a 13.1-yard average) and two touchdowns. Taylor's encouragement helped Moss and Portis through their struggles earlier in the season.
"Before he passed, we talked a lot about stuff that I was going through this year," Moss said. "He told me he believed in me and to just hang in there, and those talks with him helped me. So knowing the way he played, and how he would play if he was here, I want him to play through me. I'm dedicating every game for the rest of my career for my man because of how hard he would play."
Even during Washington's four-game slide, Portis and Moss remained confident in the team's ability, they said.
"Hard times . . . if it doesn't kill you it will make you stronger. I'm a true believer of that," Portis said. "Yeah, they could have packed it up a long time ago, [but] nobody packed it up. Nobody dropped their head [and said], 'Aw, man, why did this happen [to] us?' Injury after injury, you see guys still fight and still play. . . . You have a bunch of guys who won't give up."