By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 24, 2008
SEATTLE, Nov. 23 -- When Clinton Portis pulled on his gray, waffle-marked undershirt late Sunday afternoon, it covered the double-ply bandages he wore on both elbows. His jeans obscured the blood that ran down both legs. When he was asked what he tweaked, his reply came quickly: "What didn't I tweak?"
He almost got knocked out, he said. He got hit in the ribs and strained his hip. His knee, the left one that is sprained and prevents him from practicing, planted in the turf at Qwest Field and could have given way again. What else? He turned his face directly toward a questioner.
"You sure I ain't got no black eye?" he said, and chuckled.
What Portis did during the Washington Redskins' 20-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks was not only overcome all that, but reinforce exactly how this version of the Redskins is built to win, by running the football.
Even after a week in which he practiced just once because of that knee, Portis matched his season high with 29 carries and racked up 143 yards. Both numbers exceed Portis's totals from the past two games combined, losses to Pittsburgh and Dallas in which Portis carried only 28 times and totaled 119 difficult yards.
"It's a West Coast offense," center Casey Rabach said. "But this team's been built for this kind of football for quite a long time."
Portis and the line are merely reinforcing it now. In the Redskins' seven wins, Portis averages 24.6 carries for 124.9 yards, the kind of franchise-back performances that have him competing with Minnesota's Adrian Peterson for the league's rushing title. (After Sunday, Portis has 1,206 yards, Peterson 1,180.)
Portis said he didn't much care about that, though he also has said this season that not being considered among the league's elite backs rankles him. Still, what he cares about more: When he rushes for 100 yards this season, the Redskins are 5-1. When he does not, they're 2-3.
"I think for us, for our offensive line, the comfort level [is there] when you're running the ball," Portis said. "When we can go out and run the ball, it opens up the pass, instead of having them sit all the time passing, passing, passing.
"We been getting in trouble when we had the passing ratio bigger than the running ratio. When we keep the game balanced, or run the ball more, and come back with the play-action pass, I think you see a better performance out of [quarterback] Jason [Campbell], you see a better performance out of our O-line, and most of the time, we come out with a win."
Yet Portis's performance Sunday certainly did not guarantee a win against the struggling Seahawks. When the Redskins held a three-point lead and took over the ball at their 4-yard line with 7 minutes 5 seconds remaining, Coach Jim Zorn turned to Portis for the first carry of the drive. He did the same for the second carry and for the carry on the play after that. Zorn has worried about Portis's ability to maintain his conditioning level because he so rarely practices.
"I tell [Portis], 'Just be honest with us,' " Campbell said. " 'Tell us you want to miss practice a couple days.' "
But practice or not, with the Redskins in position to bury the Seahawks, Zorn said, "He went to heroics."
The first carry yielded nine yards to get the Redskins away from their goal line. The next brought 11 more. A 20-yard spurt came on the very next play. By the time he wrenched his knee and had to jog to the sideline, he had amassed 48 yards on a drive that took 5:37.
Only when he came off the field did the drive go awry. Portis lay on the ground, getting his knee stretched by an athletic trainer, and backup Ladell Betts fumbled the ball, giving the Seahawks one last chance.
"When you going to give me time to recover, bro?" Portis joked about Betts, who was spared ignominy when cornerback Shawn Springs came up with an interception on the next play.
Portis's time to recover, it turns out, comes during the week. It is to the point where it would be shocking to see him practicing on a Wednesday or Thursday. Sundays, though, are different. Sundays, regardless of what aches and ails, he plays.
"My track is just to try and carry this team, you know?" Portis said. "Put us in place and put us in position to be in the playoffs and make a move in the playoffs."