By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 29, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 28 -- By the time Clinton Portis slipped into his jeans, doused himself with a bit of cologne and grabbed his headphones Sunday evening, he was ready to mentally move on from a season that for most people would be difficult to characterize. What to make of it? Portis will return to the Pro Bowl for the second time in his career, but had only one 100-yard rushing game in the second half of the season. He racked up 1,487 yards, but nearly two thirds of that came before the season's midway point.
For Portis, it broke down thusly.
"First half, great," he said. "Second half, [stunk]."
If that was the case, then maybe Sunday's 27-24 season-ending loss to the San Francisco 49ers was an appropriate way for the Washington Redskins' leading rusher to head into the offseason. He got the ball 29 times but gained only 80 yards. He scored just his second touchdown in the past nine games, but his third-quarter fumble gave the 49ers momentum. And he headed into the offseason with a list of maladies suffered over the course of carrying the ball 342 times -- the fourth time in five years with Washington in which he has at least 313 rushing attempts.
So how does he feel about his year?
"Like I need a break," he said. "I need to get away from football and watching football. I probably won't know who won the Super Bowl or nothing else. So I'm going to get away, relax, recover, enjoy my offseason, have fun with my family and friends, and when it's football season again, I'll try to get back in shape."
Because it is Clinton Portis, and because it has something to do with preparation, the last part of that thought -- "I'll try to get back in shape" -- will likely be parsed throughout the offseason. Portis's inability to practice regularly during the season's second half was a point of contention among coaches, his stiff neck or sprained knee or sore back be darned.
"I don't think people can understand what he goes through," backup running back Rock Cartwright said. Portis agrees, and he's well aware that over the last five years, no one has carried the ball more. He just doesn't believe others sympathize with the effects of such a workload.
"I know the toll it takes," he said. "I think it's the writers and coaches don't understand why I sit out of practice sometimes. They don't understand why today I feel like I just can't do it. I get a lot of touches, but I get a lot of heat from not being in the game, not practicing."
The numbers on Portis's season are staggering. He ran for 944 yards over the first eight games, scored seven touchdowns, averaged five yards per carry. The Redskins, at the time, seemed to have an offensive identity that started with Portis -- and everything else fed from there.
The results in the final eight games mirrored the Redskins' overall performance. Over that eight-game stretch, Portis rang up just 543 yards, averaging a pedestrian 3.5 per carry. His longest run over the final five games of the season: 14 yards. In the final eight games, he had as many fumbles as he did touchdowns: two. And Sunday, 11 of his carries went for two or fewer yards.
Still, Coach Jim Zorn called Portis's season "consistent." "When he was healthy, he played very, very well," he said. "Even when he was banged up, he played well. . . . Overall, Clinton's got to feel very good about his year."
In Portis's mind, though, there was a reason for his drop-off in production as the season slipped away. He averaged 23.3 carries in the first half, 19.4 in the second.
"The first half of the season, I think we stayed with" the run, he said. "Second half of the season, we just didn't run the ball. I think the linemen fought. I think the team fought. We just came up short."
That, too, happened Sunday. Portis's fumble, his third of the year, came on the Redskins' first drive after halftime, when they were protecting a 17-7 lead. Portis took a handoff at his own 35. San Francisco lineman Aubrayo Franklin got his hand on the ball. It came loose, the 49ers recovered, and five plays later, they were in the end zone -- and back in the game. As the Redskins' defense came off the field, Portis greeted them, pointing to his chest.
"It was on me," he said. "I kind of ran through the lane, and I should've had both hands on the ball. It was simple. He just stuck his hand in to knock it out."
In the locker room, after he dressed and gathered his belongings, he could put the season behind him. He said, when he looked back, he would be pleased with it. He said, most likely, his ailments would not require surgery. But he needs a break.
"Hopefully, it's just rest," he said. "Get away from football, get off my legs, lay on the beach, lay out in some pool somewhere -- and just relax."