For last week's scheduled meeting with the media at Redskins Park, running back Clinton Portis came dressed as "Jerome From Southeast," an alter ego replete with gold teeth, Zorro mask and incredibly bad hair who intended to take New York and the Giants by storm. In the wake of a 36-0 thrashing, however, in which Portis carried just four times for a career-low nine yards, he assumed the character of "Dr. I Don't Know" yesterday and said Jerome met his untimely demise while in the Big Apple.
"Southeast Jerome died late Sunday night," Portis said while wearing a fuchsia wig, pink studded sunglasses and a long mustache. "He won't be with us anymore. Complications from a panic attack. He had amazing upside. He's going to be missed."
Portis, who has dressed up for all but one Thursday interview session this season, headed to New York coming off his eighth 100-yard performance since being acquired by Washington prior to the 2004 season. But he has not followed any of those games with another big performance. He has either been unable to run effectively, or, as in Sunday's loss, the team has abandoned the run early after falling behind, leaving the Redskins' running game searching for consistency.
Portis is averaging 4.4 yards per carry, up from his career-low of 3.8 last season but still a full yard below his average in two seasons with Denver. He stands in the middle of the pack among NFL running backs, 13th in yards, with the midpoint of the season coming in Sunday's game against Philadelphia. Portis has averaged 3.6 yards per carry in the games following a 100-yard performance with Washington -- the NFL average is around 4.1 -- and rushed for 3.6 yards per carry in eight career NFC East games. The coaches have been true to their pledge to curb his workload from last season, and he is down six rushes a game, but is still searching for the long runs and scoring touch that defined his tenure in Denver (Portis has a rushing touchdown in just one of his last nine contests).
"The thing I look for overall in the running game is consistency," running backs coach Earnest Byner said. "And it's my desire to see us be really, really productive week to week to week, and that's the thing we have not had thus far. . . . We've been productive and been able to make some things happen when the game presents it. When we convert third downs and we're able to get into a rhythm, then we've been productive, but what I want really more than anything else is overall consistency;. The big plays and the touchdowns will come."
Portis, who questioned the play calling and offensive scheme at times last season, said he has no problems sharing the load with backup Ladell Betts this season and believes the coaches have better tailored the system to its offensive personnel as he had hoped. He has 43 fewer rushes and 110 fewer yards than he did after seven games last season, but is happy with his role.
"I'm not complaining," he said. "We're trying to win. Whatever that's going to take to win. I'm not going to turn into an outcast and say, 'Put the ball in my hands.' Nothing was going right for us [in New York] and you can't fault the coaches for throwing the ball. We couldn't get nothing going against the Giants."
Coach Joe Gibbs called for 40 passing plays and 13 runs in New York. Byner's ideal is for Portis to get 20 to 25 runs each week, with Betts adding 10 to 15 carries. Since this staff took over, the Redskins are 9-0 when running more than they pass and 1-13 when they do the opposite (a 14-13 comeback over Dallas this season is the only time they bucked the trend).
"That's a good stat," Gibbs said. "I need to pay attention to that stat."
In retrospect, Gibbs wishes he had run the ball more against the Giants and believes it is imperative to establish the run early with another key divisional game looming against the Eagles.
"You always look back on that and say, 'There's no balance there,' " Gibbs said. "And when you get out of balance, you get sacks and get everything else and bad things happen and you turn the ball over. Up here, you've got to be balanced. You win a game every now and then throwing it a bunch, but that's not the way to go up here."
Philadelphia's defense ranks just 25th overall and 21st against the run. Denver had two 100-yard backs and three rushing touchdowns against the Eagles last week, and the Redskins still rank 10th in the league in rushing even after last weekend's thumping.
"There's no use letting it linger," Portis said. "We went up to New York and got stomped. You have to put it behind you."
For Portis, at least, redemption could come as soon as Sunday night at FedEx Field. But for Jerome, alas, there are no tomorrows.