Before the Washington Redskins faced the San Diego Chargers last Sunday, both Coach Joe Gibbs and quarterback Mark Brunell looked at their depleted receiving corps with resignation.
David Patten, who was to provide balance by giving Brunell a second legitimate target, was lost for the season. Taylor Jacobs, who replaced the injured James Thrash and Patten, had difficulty getting open against the Oakland Raiders. And Santana Moss, the team's top wide receiver, correctly expects to be double-teamed until another offensive weapon emerges.
Both Gibbs and Brunell said it was likely that they would incorporate Clinton Portis into the passing game, but over the past few weeks, even as the number of receiving options has declined, Portis has been less involved as a receiver.
On Sunday, Portis caught one pass for 23 yards, but it was a big play, setting up Rock Cartwright's 13-yard, third-quarter touchdown that gave the Redskins a 17-7 lead. But, in the continuation of another trend, Brunell did not look to Portis again for the rest of the game. After being shut out in the first game of the season, Portis caught 12 passes for 121 yards over his next four games. In the six games that followed, Portis caught 11 passes for 59 yards. He does not have a receiving touchdown.
The value of using Portis in the passing game was twofold. First, Brunell would have another option in an offense that has only been able to count on Moss and H-back Chris Cooley. They have combined for 112 catches, more than every other player combined. Moss attracts attention, as does Cooley, who did not catch a pass in the second half against the Chargers.
"It was probably a coverage thing. His number is always called," Brunell said of Cooley. "We realize how important he is to our offense and you try to get him the ball. Sometimes it doesn't happen."
The second reason is to enhance Portis as a weapon. As the Redskins saw with LaDainian Tomlinson, when the ball is in the hands of a solid running back, the chances for a big play greatly improve. Tomlinson is a dangerous runner and receiver, and Chargers Coach Marty Schottenheimer said he believed Portis to be, ability-wise, in a similar category to Tomlinson.
In two seasons in Denver, Portis caught 71 passes for 678 yards. More importantly, he was a big-play threat, catching passes in both 2002 and 2003 for 66 yards or more. This year, his season long is 23 yards, accomplished twice.
Last week, Brunell called the matchup with the Chargers a "must-game" and was echoed by Portis. This week, after losing to San Diego in overtime, Brunell said the same thing about Sunday's game in St. Louis.
"Ditto," he said. "We need to win a game. My feelings haven't changed about that."
Said cornerback Shawn Springs: "I don't view it as having to win five in a row. It's a matter of winning, of playing four quarters and winning one. Then winning another. I like to make it less complicated. You can't win five in a row until you've won one."
Farris Is Just Fine
After being hit illegally on punt coverage by Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer, wide receiver Jimmy Farris stayed down, holding his hamstring. But Director of Sports Medicine Bubba Tyer said yesterday that Farris was fine. "At first I thought he had a hamstring, but it turned out someone just stepped on it," Tyer said. . . .
Mike Sellers, who missed Sunday's game with fractured ribs, was cleared for full workouts yesterday, according to Tyer.