By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis could have joined elite company last night had he surpassed the 120-yard rushing mark. It would have been the sixth straight week that Portis crossed the barrier, a feat previously accomplished only by legends Earl Campbell and Eric Dickerson.
Instead, during the Redskins' 23-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last night, Portis was exiled into a far less exclusive club.
Portis, whose stellar first half of the season vaulted his name into early discussions for the league's most valuable player award, became the latest running back to be shut down by the NFL's top defense. Portis finished with a season-low 51 yards on the ground, an appropriately lackluster number on a night in which the Steelers bullied the Redskins' offense.
"That don't matter, man," said Portis, whose 100-yard rushing streak was ended at five games. "I know I can get back on track with that. The worst thing is going into a bye week with a loss."
Pittsburgh entered the game with the league's top-ranked defense, allowing just 236 yards per game. Pittsburgh's stingy run defense came into the contest yielding just 2.8 yard per attempt (second best) and 71.6 rushing yards per game (third best).
The unit was also fresh off another signature effort, stunting the New York Giants last week, even though New York had the NFL's top rushing attack.
The Steelers were equally sharp against the Redskins and Portis, who is still the NFL's top rusher with 944 yards. From the outset, the Steelers clogged running lanes by overwhelming the offensive line, and Portis could sense trouble from the start, when the Redskins failed to take advantage of good field position.
"I don't think it's what they did, it's what we did," Portis said. "We didn't block very well, run or pass blocking. That's not Redskins football what we saw tonight."
Portis also missed some time during the game with leg pain, which came after another player landed on the back of Portis's leg.
"I'm going to get banged up, come back and shake it off, go back in and try it again," Portis said.
But when he returned, he could do little to rescue the Redskins.
When Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich found wide receiver Santonio Holmes for a five-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, the Redskins fell behind 23-6, ensuring that the only way Portis would make an impact on the remainder of the game would be as a pass catcher.
"We were hoping to play our football, smash-mouth football," Clinton said. "Instead, we got smashed. There's nothing good about that."
Portis finished with seven catches for 73 yards, both easily season highs. And even though he's had much better days, Portis finished with the Redskins' top three plays from scrimmage, catching passes for 29 and 17 yards, and breaking free for a 22-yard run.
But it was hardly enough to erase his worst rushing performance since Week 3 of last season, a 24-17 loss to the New York Giants.
"I just think they broke down our protections real well," Redskins running back Rock Cartwright said.
Indeed, Pittsburgh took the Redskins out of rhythm. Though one statistic, which Cartwright knew off the top of his head, underscored the point the best.
"Clinton ran the ball 13 times," Cartwright said. "When was the last time he ran the ball 13 times? So they definitely got us out of our rhythm, and they definitely got us out of what we wanted to do."