Hitting His Stride

After an unsettling loss in their previous game, the Redskins rebound, holding on for a 14-11 victory over the Cleveland Browns at FedEx Field.
By Mike Wise
Monday, October 20, 2008

Rhonnel Hearn has a pronouncement to make. It comes from behind the north end zone of FedEx Field, where the euphoric woman in an official NFL jersey -- its No. 26 outlined with sparkling sequins -- just finished bear-hugging her son.

"I need a good trip to Hawaii," Clinton Portis's mother said.

C.P., are you with me? It's time to send Mom and the fam back to paradise. Six years is too long a wait.

"It'd be great, but if I didn't, who cares?" Portis said. "I'd rather win than go back to the Pro Bowl."

Portis lowered his shoulder again, braced that thick neck of his for impact and ran past and over a defense from Cleveland that was said to be good against the run. On a groundhog day in the trenches, where both teams seemed to sign a nonaggression pact on offense in the first half, Portis and his offensive line powered Washington past the Browns in another trap-and-block clinic that makes you forget how good Jason Campbell is becoming under Jim Zorn, and how much Greg Blache's defense looks as formidable as some of Gregg Williams's.

Portis ran for 175 yards, building his league-leading rushing total to 818 after just seven games. Though his fumble in the fourth quarter led to Cleveland's only touchdown, the bigger picture is Portis has now rushed for at least 120 yards in the last four straight games -- a feat he last accomplished with Denver late in the 2003 season.

"I think C.P. is an absolute workhorse," Zorn said, and no one can argue.

One-hundred-sixty-three carries, which also leads the league. An average of 5.0 yards per carry. Seven touchdowns. It's hard for anyone barely 27 years old to be thought of as having a renaissance, but such is life in the good-to-be-young NFL, where 20-something running backs are gobbled up and discarded before they're 30.

"He was 19th on some ranking for running backs last year," Rhonnel said, miffed over the disrespect afforded her son. "Nineteenth! That's crazy. Clinton is the best in the league. We always knew that."

Because of injuries, Portis's career was indeed at a crossroads in the summer of 2007. He was only 26 years old, but a litany of ailments had prevented him from playing in a game since the previous November. Portis had participated in fewer than 10 practices in 10 months and the team's training staff candidly admitted they wished Portis had taken his rehabilitation more seriously.

When the team fell into a midseason funk, he backpacked the Redskins toward .500, once rushing for more than 200 yards against the Jets. After Sean Taylor's slaying, he dedicated his season to his best friend on the team and ended up leading the NFL in carries en route to the team's improbable run toward the playoffs.

Another crucial turning point: the tearing up of his old contract. Not only did it include a new signing bonus and guarantee about three years of his salary, about $16 million, it also made Portis accountable for staying in shape during the offseason, almost all of which was spent in Ashburn. His home base, Miami, was put on hold in favor of remaining with his team.

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