Washington Redskins tailback Clinton Portis often ran to the outside Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium. The Redskins tailback used the stretch plays incorporated in the offseason, instead of the counter treys he ran with frustration last season. But Portis still struggled to find any gaping holes and, most of the times that Portis slithered through a crevice, he often received a wallop from the Dallas Cowboys' punishing defense.
After all the ballyhooed changes tailored to Portis, the linchpin of Coach Joe Gibbs's offense is off to a similar pattern from last year's up-and-down season. Portis's runs were often stuffed by a swarm of defenders. Still, Portis showed resilience and contributed as a pass-catcher to help the Redskins to a stirring 14-13 victory.
Portis finished with only 52 yards on 17 carries for a three-yard average. His long was only eight yards and he was often stopped for losses. But Portis was also amongWashington's leading pass-catchers with 25 yards on four catches. The only player with more catches was Santana Moss, who finished with five receptions for 159 yards, including Washington's two touchdowns.
"That's what we brought him in for," Portis said of Moss in a postgame interview with the Dallas Morning News. "And he responded for us. Even when we were down, I could tell by the way the guys looked on the sideline that we could come back. We just had to keep playing and we knew eventually it would happen.
Portis's receptions weren't anything special, except on a night when Washington's offense sputtered until late. Portis had as many receptions as No. 2 receiver David Patten (one for 12 yards), wideout Taylor Jacobs (one for nine yards) and H-back Chris Cooley (two for 20 yards) collectively.
And Portis's 77 yards rushing and receiving gave him a good chunk of Washington's 346 total yards.
With the Redskins down 13-7 and about three minutes remaining, Portis showed his pass-catching ability to set up Moss's stunning go-ahead touchdown. Portis snagged a 10-yard pass from Mark Brunell on the left sideline before stepping out of bounds. On the next play, Brunell threw a 70-yard touchdown pass in the end zone to Moss, giving Washington an improbable 14-13 lead.
Washington's defense forced the Cowboys to go three and out. And with less than two minutes left, the Redskins turned to Portis to help run down the clock. But Portis was met with the same gang-tackling and run stuffing as in most of the game. On first and 10, Portis sprang for four yards behind left tackle Chris Samuels. Portis squeezed up the middle for three yards before a hard hit by defensive tackle La'Roi Glover. On third and three with 1 minute 38 seconds left, it was no secret who would get the ball. So when Portis attempted to dash up the middle, several Cowboys swarmed pass the line of scrimmage led by linebacker Bradie James and defensive end Kenyon Coleman.
The three runs were Portis's only rush attempts in the fourth quarter because the Redskins were down 13-0 in the final period. And Portis became a pass blocker as Washington's passing game belatedly heated up.
Last year, Portis amassed 1,315 yards on a career-high 343 rushes, the fourth-most in franchise history. But Portis's performances fluctuated as he averaged only 3.8 yards rushing, a precipitous drop since Portis averaged 5.5 yards in his first two seasons. Still, Portis quietly produced a career-high 40 catches, averaging 5.9 yards on a total of 235.
Portis's expectations are high this season after the changes in the run game, an ostensibly improved line, highlighted by new center Casey Rabach and the return of right tackle Jon Jansen, who missed last season with a torn Achilles' tendon.
Last week against the Chicago Bears, Portis finished with 121 yards on 21 carries.