By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Running back Clinton Portis watched practice from the sideline yesterday at Redskins Park. It has been a familiar spot for him between games recently.
"Just whole body sore. Getting old," Portis said during a group interview as his teammates entered the locker room. "It's rough out there."
Hampered by injuries throughout the season, Portis -- the NFL's second-leading rusher -- suffered a neck injury during Sunday's 23-7 loss to the New York Giants at FedEx Field. Despite an array of physical problems, including severe knee and hip pain, Portis has not missed a game and must push forward, he said, with Washington's once-promising season threatening to slip away.
The Redskins (7-5) hope to end their slide when they face the Baltimore Ravens (8-4) on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. Portis is determined to play and do his part to help Washington remain in contention for an NFC playoff berth. Taking it easy in practice until then would make sense to him.
"It's always the same with running backs," said Portis, who has not hidden his disdain for practice even when he has been physically sound. "Just fight through, find a way to get to the game. This ain't nothing new for me. Every year you're fighting through it. Every year when I wasn't practicing there was something wrong with me.
"I know people thought I was just sitting out and doing nothing. I came and played [in games], but ask any running back in the NFL if they banged up. When you go and give it your all on Sunday, you really don't recover [until] Wednesday, Thursday, where you start feeling like you can do something."
This season, it's often even later in the week for Portis. He has spent much of his time between games in the training room, working with Redskins medical personnel in an effort to join his teammates at game time.
"Every running back in the NFL has to be a tough guy, particularly the elite running backs, and I don't think it's a stretch to call Clinton an elite running back," left guard Pete Kendall said. "He's as tough as they come, but most running backs have to be. If you're going to have longevity in this game at that position, you have to be a tough son of a gun."
The seven-year veteran has performed at a high level -- perhaps the highest of his career, several teammates said -- and shouldered much for an offense in transition under Jim Zorn, a rookie head coach and play-caller. Portis has rushed for 1,228 yards with a 4.8-yard average and seven touchdowns, and has continued to block with "ferocity" in the passing game, running backs coach Stump Mitchell said recently.
Portis attributes much of his success to his "teammates giving it all they got. Knowing you're out banged up, knowing you're laying it on the line, I think it elevate the play of others around you.
"Our offensive line been playing great and guys [receivers] blocking downfield. When you step on the field, it's just a determination factor. When we determined to run the ball, the O-line block great, the receivers block great."
Portis barely has been able to move at times on the sideline between series and then made big plays when he reentered games, and "you can only be impressed by what he's gone out there and done," quarterback Jason Campbell said. "Clinton definitely is a big part of our offense, and he's a guy you know you can count on no matter what he's going through. He's been banged up all year, and you know he's hurting now, but we're struggling as an offense and we need him out there."
The Redskins have the league's fifth-best rushing offense with an average of 139.4 yards per game, but they rank 28th in scoring at 17.3 points per game. Washington went 1-3 in November, scoring only 23 points in losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and Giants on their home field. Portis totaled less than 70 yards in those defeats. He had a season-low two-yard average against New York.
Baltimore ranks second in the league in overall defense and rushing defense. Led by Pro Bowl middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens excel at pressuring quarterbacks, shutting down running games and forcing turnovers in their aggressive 3-4 scheme.
"It's going to be a tough game," Portis said. "That's just like playing Philly, you know it's going to be tough. It don't matter what the scheme is you come up with [on offense], or how good you think you going to run the ball, it's just going to be a tough, physical game. You just got to be ready for it."
Although Zorn has said he would prefer to have every member of the 53-man roster participate in every practice, he has eased off Portis. "He's not really ready to practice," Zorn said, "where you feel like he could grit and go."
Backup running back Ladell Betts has regained his form after missing three games in late October and early November because of a knee injury, and Betts and special teams standout Rock Cartwright "are going to have to help us," Zorn said. "No question."
A lot is at stake for the Redskins in their final four games, Portis said, and the final quarter of their season begins against the Ravens. "It's really playoff hopes for both of us," he said. "This game mean a lot to them also because the AFC is in a tight race as well. They got a tough four-game stretch left, and we got a tough four-game stretch left.
"Every game you can get right now at this time in the season is critical. For us, we need to win. I think [a win would] change the morale, get us back on track, keep our hopes alive. Everyone know we got to elevate our game. Everybody got to look at themselves and find out what can you do to help this team get through the month of December."
Staff writer Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.