Redskins 17, Dolphins 0
-- During Washington's first two preseason games, the run-heavy system that Coach Joe Gibbs hopes will lead the franchise to a Super Bowl during his return to the NFL lagged behind an undermanned offensive line. Clinton Portis, the linchpin of the offense, had shown few glimpses of the Pro Bowl tailback the Redskins acquired by trading Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey in March.
But at Pro Player Stadium on Saturday night, Washington displayed its smash-mouth style, highlighted by Gibbs's famed counter trey running play, as the Redskins ran over the Miami Dolphins, 17-0.
"I was never worried," said Portis, who gained 37 yards on seven carries. "We went two games not really moving the ball. Eventually we had to come out of the slump."
Rookie safety Sean Taylor sparkled again in Washington's blitz-happy defense as the former Miami Hurricane made his first start, playing in front of family and friends in his home town. Mark Brunell gave his sharpest performance of the preseason to stay ahead of Patrick Ramsey in the quarterback competition. But the most significant aspect of Washington's third preseason game was the Redskins awakening from their running slumber.
"The guys up front did a great job," said Brunell, who was 7 for 9 for 79 yards. "The emphasis this week was running the ball, being physical and moving it down the field. And that way when we did throw, we were effective. It was a good night for the offensive line."
Portis played in only one series, and looked more like the tailback with a career average of 5.5 yards per carry. It didn't matter what runner was in the backfield as the offensive line created gaping holes for John Simon (12 carries for 43 yards), Rock Cartwright (14 for 33) and Sultan McCullough (16 for 56). Not counting quarterback scrambles, the Redskins rushed for 181 yards on 54 attempts.
The performance was impressive for a unit that lost right tackle Jon Jansen to a season-ending injury in the preseason opener, a 20-17 victory over the Denver Broncos on Aug. 9. In that game, Washington rushed for only 2.8 yards per carry. The figure improved to 3.4 yards, with the biggest gains by third-stringers, as Kenyatta Jones replaced Jansen in last week's 23-20 overtime loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Gibbs had expressed concern over penalties and the offense's inability to execute basic plays. Saturday night, Gibbs increased the number of offensive plays, particularly runs, and his players responded.
"I was pleased that we played smarter tonight," said Gibbs, whose team had one turnover and five penalties. "For us, I was proud that we were much more solid, didn't turn the ball over and our defense continued to play well."
Portis set the tone on Washington's first possession, darting up the middle for five yards before being halted by left defensive tackle Tim Bowens. On second and 10 from the Miami 40-yard line, Portis swept left behind left tackle Chris Samuels and broke a tackle for a 22-yard gain, easily his longest of the preseason. In that series, Brunell handed off to Portis seven consecutive times, and the predictability didn't prevent Washington from marching down the field. "You don't fix something," Brunell said, "that's not broke."
On third and goal from the Miami 1, all 72,112 spectators knew who would get the ball. Still, Portis went up the middle and leapt over a pile of bodies. A defender deflected Portis's dive, but the tailback fell into the end zone for a 7-0 Redskins lead.
"Gibbs thinks I'm a machine. We have to talk to him about that," Portis joked.
Portis departed the game for good after the eight-play, 63-yard drive that took 5 minutes 25 seconds. Washington alternated tailbacks Simon and Cartwright the rest of the first half. The Redskins didn't hesitate to keep running even after short gains.
Later, on third and 9 from the Miami 27, Simon showed some moves to get past middle linebacker Tony Bua for a 12-yard gain.
After two Simon rushes for a combined six yards, the Redskins landed on the Miami 9 with a third down. Gibbs cleared the backfield, and Brunell whipped a pass to the elusive Chad Morton for an eight-yard gain.
On first and goal from the 1, Cartwright wriggled through a hole created by Samuels to get into the end zone for the Redskins' second touchdown. The 10-play, 43-yard drive was so methodical that Cartwright and his teammates barely celebrated.
As for Taylor, after playing behind Andre Lott in the first two exhibitions, he was promoted to the first defensive unit largely because of splendid performances in the first two preseason games, intercepting two passes and forcing a fumble.
On Miami's first series, the Dolphins had the ball on the Washington 40-yard line on a third and four. Quarterback A.J. Feeley completed a five-yard pass to Chris Chambers. Taylor, known for his vicious hits in college, slammed into Chambers to jar the ball loose with help from cornerback Shawn Springs. Taylor recovered the ball on the Washington 35.
"You can't describe the feeling," Taylor said of playing in front of relatives. "I'm just happy to be playing in front of them."
The Redskins faced a Dolphins offense that appears to be a shambles after Ricky Williams, one of the NFL's top tailbacks, announced his retirement last month. Williams's stunning decision was compounded by a season-ending knee injury to David Boston, the team's top wide receiver.
Washington's defense turned the heat on Miami with constant blitzes that left the Dolphins' quarterbacks confounded.
The defense remains ahead of the offense, although on Saturday night Washington's running game finally showed signs of life.
"I'm proud of our guys," Samuels said. "We got out there and we laid it to 'em. I think this can continue throughout the season if we just continue to work hard and stay healthy."