By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 3, 2010; 9:41 PM
PHILADELPHIA - By the final minutes of Sunday's 17-12 victory over the Eagles, the Redskins' running game seemed simultaneously fixed and in shambles.
Starter Clinton Portis had his most impressive day of this young season, but he finished it off in the locker room, nursing a groin injury of undetermined severity. The remaining active running backs available to grind out the game over the final five minutes: Ryan Torain, who two weeks ago was on the Redskins' practice squad, and Chad Simpson, who two weeks ago was out of work.
So with the clock winding down and a lead to protect, what could Torain - the choice as Portis's replacement - have felt?
"Definitely comfortable," Torain said. "Just had to know the ball's in your hands and the game's in your hands."
Torain's numbers - 18 carries for 70 yards and a touchdown - are hardly spectacular. But add them to Portis's 11 carries for 55 yards, and throw in 39 more yards on scrambles from quarterback Donovan McNabb, and the Redskins showed Sunday they could not only commit to run the ball, but they could move it as well.
"Knowing that we was going to rely on the run game, that takes the pressure out of breaking every play," Portis said. "I think in previous games it was like, we call a run and we go with the pass, and then you sprinkle in another run. We knew we was going to run the ball, and I had opportunities to go out and make plays."
When he coached the Denver Broncos, Mike Shanahan's offenses ran more frequently than any team in the NFL. But when Shanahan arrived Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, his Redskins had run less frequently than any team. The coach has said repeatedly during the early part of his tenure in Washington that developing the running game was a process. That process surely moved forward Sunday, when the Redskins set season highs for both carries (35) and yards (169).
"It worked awesome," center Casey Rabach said.
Particularly on the day's first two series, when a fresh Portis - "I just finally got a rhythm," he said - mixed effectively with the younger Torain. The Redskins opened the game thusly: run, run, run for touchdown, run, run, pass, run, run, pass, run, run, pass for touchdown, all good for a 14-0 lead.
That pace couldn't be sustained, but it was a start. Portis began the second half splendidly as well, first with an eight-yard carry, then with 11 more yards on his next attempt. They were the kind of plays which, over the course of the past season or two, have appeared infrequently on Portis's resume. The ninth-year back had also been questioned because of how he ended a 27-yard run in last week's loss to St. Louis - simply falling to the turf before contact.
On Sunday, he seemed to embrace contact, but his injury surfaced during the Redskins' second possession of the third quarter when he was hit by Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel.
"I heard it pop," Portis said of his left groin, and he immediately went to the trainer's table behind the Redskins' bench. He stretched himself back out, and reappeared for the first series of the fourth quarter - only to gain two yards, and aggravate the injury again.
"Hopefully it's day-to-day," Portis said, adding he would have X-rays Monday.
"I knew as soon as he went down," Torain said. "That was just the mind-set for me, to be able to take the whole load and be able to help out."
That's what he did. The second-year back failed to make the 53-man roster out of training camp, spent two weeks on the practice squad, then was signed to the team before the St. Louis game. His attitude during that time: "Stay working hard," he said.
"He's quiet," Rabach said. "The only thing I hear from him is, 'Thanks. Thanks. Good job. Good blocking.'"
On Washington's final possession, Torain took the ball on seven of eight plays, including a tough 10-yard run after the Eagles had used their final timeout. Had left tackle Stephon Heyer not been called for a false start, Torain might have salted the game away himself.
It was only one week, and the numbers were hardly staggering. But after the Redskins evened their record at 2-2, the running game, at least temporarily, went from in crisis to in step.
"That was exciting," Portis said, "just to have the opportunity to be a part of that game, to carry the team on our back."