Washington Redskins running back Stephen Davis reached a career goal today, only to have his afternoon end in the most miserable way conceivable to a professional athlete: watching from the sideline as his teammates narrowly lost a game.
Davis, the Redskins' offensive workhorse and the NFL's leading rusher, sprained his left ankle late in the first half against the Indianapolis Colts, moments after setting a Redskins single-season rushing record of 1,405 yards, eclipsing Terry Allen's 1996 mark of 1,353.
The sprain was accompanied by a bone chip fracture, according to team officials. Davis will undergo an MRI exam Monday, but he said he hopes to be able to play next week against San Francisco.
The Redskins (8-6) will need him after today's 24-21 loss to the Colts.
With the score tied at 10 and less than three minutes remaining before halftime, Davis was injured when he caught his foot on the artificial turf at the RCA Dome. "I tried to move it, and it wouldn't move," Davis said. "I have no idea how I did it. I was hollering like a little baby."
To that point, Davis had been the Redskins' offensive star, gaining 70 yards on 14 carries. He broke Allen's record on the Redskins' second series--a play in which he fumbled, but guard Tre Johnson recovered the ball.
Davis was carrying for the seventh time on the Redskins' final drive of the period when he came up limping after a four-yard gain that took Washington to the Colts 8. Brett Conway made a 32-yard field goal to give the Redskins a 13-10 halftime lead. But Davis never rejoined the action, though he asked to after having his ankle taped.
"I wanted to be out there bad," he said. Asked about the bone chip, Davis insisted there was none. "Naw. Who said that? It's day-to-day. It's going to be all right."
What has made Davis so valuable this season are his power and resilience. Unlike second-year player Skip Hicks, the Redskins' rushing star last season, Davis prefers to bore headlong into a defense. At 6 feet, 234 pounds, he is a handful to bring down when he gets going. When the Redskins' passing game has sputtered, Davis has provided steadiness--a solid bet to gain four or five yards and whittle time off the clock. His grit and tenacity have won over the offensive line, which revels in blocking for him.
With Davis sidelined, Hicks and return specialist Brian Mitchell shared the rushing duties. The Redskins managed 74 second-half rushing yards, but failed to convert on some critical short-yardage third downs. Hicks was stopped for no gain on one third-down play early in the third quarter, then was dropped for a one-yard loss on another early in the fourth. Mitchell (five carries for 42 yards) scored on a six-yard scamper to cut the Colts' lead to 24-21 with 1 minute 24 seconds left in the game.
While Coach Norv Turner and others sought to downplay the effect of losing Davis, Colts linebacker Cornelius Bennett didn't. "We lucked out when Stephen Davis went out of the game," Bennett said. "But in order to win championship games, you need a little luck."
Said Turner: "It's disappointing. Stephen is having a great year. Hopefully he can play the last two games. He was playing awfully well early on today."
According to Johnson, who had blocked for both, Davis and Hicks are two radically different types of runners. Switching from one to the other requires adjustment.
"I think we took a little setback once he went out," Johnson said. "We were still effective; we were doing well. But it takes a moment for him to get a feel for us and how we do things day-to-day. It was a matter of getting a rhythm. . . . If it's third and one, third and two, we have it laid out how Stephen wants to do it. Skip may bounce it [outside] a little more. The priority is the first down. Then, get the big play after that."
Today's game, which pitted Washington's second-ranked offense against the league's fourth-ranked offense in Indianapolis, drew national attention because of the battle between two premier running backs.
Davis, largely unheralded before the season, entered the game as the NFL's top rusher, with 1,335 yards and 17 touchdowns. Colts running back Edgerrin James had the NFL's second-best numbers, with 1,311 yards and nine touchdowns.
Unlike Davis, a fourth-round selection from Auburn in 1996, James has been a star from the first game of the season. Colts President Bill Polian raised eyebrows with a pre-draft trade that sent running back Marshall Faulk to St. Louis. Then, Polian stunned draft-day analysts by skipping over Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams to take James fourth overall.
But in today's first half, Davis had the edge over the rookie. Davis's 70 yards nearly quadrupled the gains James posted (19 yards on 10 carries) in the first two quarters, thanks largely to the play of Washington's defensive line.
Davis entered the game on the heels of his best performance to date, having gained 189 yards on 37 carries in the Redskins' 28-3 victory over Arizona. He seemed on his way to his seventh 100-yard game when he suffered the injury.
Davis was unable to put on his left shoe after the game. As he left the locker room, carrying the shoe in his hand, he was asked about his single-season rushing record.
"You know, it's a goal that I set and accomplished," Davis said. "I'm happy I did. But I'm also mad about the loss."
The top single-season rushing leaders in Redskins history:
Stephen Davis, 1999 1,405 yards
Terry Allen, 1996 1,353 yards
John Riggins, 1983 1,347 yards
Terry Allen, 1995 1,309 yards
John Riggins, 1984 1,239 yards