In a sight that was a preseason rarity, Clinton Portis burst through a crevice on the left side for seven yards after taking a handoff on Washington's first offensive play of the game last night against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FedEx Field.

That carry matched his preseason total.

In an extended outing last night against the Steelers, Portis finished with eight carries for 48 yards. It was a tough test for the running back, going against a defense that was No. 1 in the NFL last season. Before last night, Pittsburgh's first-team defense had allowed only 26 rushing yards, playing in only the first half of its first two games.

Portis, who missed last week's game because of a sore elbow, was strong out of the gate, rushing for 32 yards on his first five carries in Washington's first drive. On the second play of the drive, Portis went up the middle before being halted after a two-yard gain. After wide receiver James Thrash converted a third-and-one pass, Washington went back to Portis from its 30-yard line. Portis gained 14 yards through a gaping hole on the right side created by tackle Jon Jansen and guard Randy Thomas. To celebrate the play -- his longest of the game -- Portis placed the ball on the ground and spun it.

The Redskins went back to Portis for two more carries totaling nine yards. But on third and one from the Pittsburgh 47-yard line, the Redskins were called for illegal substitution. The drive died on Patrick Ramsey's incomplete pass on third and six from the Washington 48-yard line.

Portis was a factor on the sideline as well. During Washington's scoring drive late in the second quarter, he sprinted down the sideline to greet players, leaped high after completions and waved a towel. Portis celebrated when H-back Chris Cooley snagged a four-yard touchdown pass from Ramsey to even the score at 10.

But just before the play, fans were reminded of the balancing act Coach Joe Gibbs goes through in getting his top tailback minutes while trying to avoid an injury. On third and two from the Pittsburgh 7-yard line, Ladell Betts was tackled from behind and was forced to hobble off the field to seek treatment.

Last year, Portis amassed 1,315 yards on a career-high 343 rushes; which is the fourth-most in franchise history.

Bowen Bruised in Start

Strong safety Matt Bowen made his first preseason start in place of Ryan Clark (knee). But his night ended early in the first quarter when he suffered bruised ribs that forced him to go to a local hospital for further examination.

After recovering from a serious right knee injury (torn anterior cruciate), Bowen has been competing with Clark for his old starting job.

But Bowen's start went awry after he tried to tackle Jerome Bettis on Pittsburgh's second drive. Bowen missed the tackle and got the wrong end of the contact.

Noble Returns to Lineup

Nose tackle Brandon Noble's return was overshadowed by linebacker LaVar Arrington. Like Arrington, Noble made his first appearance since December, replacing Joe Salave'a in the second quarter. Noble had missed the first two preseason games with a staph infection that developed after arthroscopic knee surgery in April. . . .

Cornerback Walt Harris (calf), tight end Robert Royal (shoulder), wide receiver Taylor Jacobs (toe), punter Tom Tupa (back) and offensive lineman Mark Wilson (back) did not play.