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Sunday, October 19, 2008
Portis credits Redskins' win to 'team ball'


Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

LANDOVER, Md. -- Redskins running back Clinton Portis had just completed one of his best days as a pro Sunday, but none of that mattered as the Browns lined up for a 54-yard field-goal attempt to send the game into overtime.

 
 Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
 Clinton Portis rushed for 175 yards and a TD, his fourth straight 100-yard rushing game.

Even though he'd punished the Browns for four quarters with 175 yards on 27 carries, Portis stood to be the goat if the Browns pulled off the comeback.

After a dramatic goal-line stand by the defense, the Redskins took over at their 3-yard line. As he had all night, Portis spotted a seam and bounced outside for what he thought was going to be a 97-yard touchdown run. But as he raced down the right sideline, Browns cornerback Eric Wright jabbed the ball out from behind.

"I gotta know better," said Portis, wearing the type of gold eyewear that can't be found at Sunglass Hut. "I was running wild and trying to dig. The guy just made a great play."

Asked how he felt when Phil Dawson's 54-yard attempt sailed wide right, Portis told a reporter to think of the "best relief you've had in your life."

Portis' turnover led to a Browns touchdown, and opened the door for Dawson's attempt. The Redskins held on for a 14-11 victory that helped ease some of the sting from last week's 19-17 home loss to the surging Rams.

Earlier in the week, Portis said he didn't know if a hip injury would allow him to play against the Browns. With backup Ladell Betts already out, Jim Zorn had to dial up former Seahawk Shaun Alexander, whose best days are well behind him.

Portis didn't practice all week, but he said a couple of massages helped enable him to play. And given the circumstances and the Redskins' lack of rhythm in the passing game Sunday, Zorn had to ride his best player.

"I think Clinton Portis is an absolute workhorse," Zorn said. "And our offensive line takes pride in that. I think teams are coming to stop our run, but we're staying with it."

Portis has rushed for at least 120 yards in each of the past four games, something he hasn't done since he was with the Broncos in 2003. But he senses something's different about this Redskins team. When he looked around the huddle Sunday, he said the linemen and tight ends were noticeably excited about hearing which play Jason Campbell was going to call. It's something he attributes to the arrival of Zorn, who seems to have quickly gained a deep respect from his players. Portis says he no longer thinks in terms of Pro Bowls and eye-popping numbers, though he's making a strong run at league MVP honors.

"All the personal stats and personal ideas, wanting to do this and wanting to do that is out for me," he said. "I want to win. It does not matter if I have 175 yards or if I have 75 yards, if we come out with a win, I come out with a smile on my face."

This doesn't sound like the same guy who used to show up to interviews in costume. He had a tremendous stretch of games in 2005, but you got the sense he was caught up in individual achievement. The old Portis might've embraced a Plaxico-like arrangement that allowed him to practice once or twice a season. But now he's actually looking forward to Wednesday.

"It's kind of boring sitting out practice," he said. "You sit over there trying to mentally stay focused, and I end up joking with a player who needs to be listening."

Portis used to spend a lot of his offseason in South Beach, but his restructured contract (that will keep him around through 2010) included some workout bonuses to keep him closer to Redskins Park. He struggled through a variety of injuries in the past, but he launched himself into the workout program and watched his diet closely this offseason. Now, the Redskins are reaping the rewards.

"It's made a lot of difference in the leg drive," Portis said. "With the pounding I take, it's played a major role."

When the Colts won the Super Bowl two years ago, Portis said he traveled to Puerto Rico with a lot of their players. He said he felt like such an outsider that he cut his vacation short and headed back home.

On Sunday, Portis put the offense on his back for most of the game. But in the end, he needed his teammates to bail him out. Apparently this is what the Redskins call "team ball," and at 5-2, it's tough to argue with the concept.

Redskins stingy near the goal line: Two weeks ago, the Redskins kept the Eagles out of the end zone after they had first-and-goal at the 2-yard line. On Sunday, the Browns had first-and-goal at the Redskins' 1 in the fourth quarter, and were stopped on four consecutive plays. Defensive coordinator Greg Blache has the Redskins work on live goal-line situations twice a week, and it was a huge point of emphasis in training camp. Middle linebacker London Fletcher made tackles on the first two plays.

"It's a manhood thing," said reserve linebacker H.B. Blades, whose specialty is goal-line defense.

Fletcher, who was a Browns fan growing up in Cleveland, said goal-line defense was "Blache's baby."

He's played for the Rams and the Bills, and he said neither of those teams devoted as much time to goal-line defense as the Redskins. It has become part of the defense's identity not to concede anything, and they nearly pulled off another stand after the Browns recovered Portis' fumble.

Zorn was worried about Campbell: A lot of fans were probably wondering why Zorn called a draw play for Portis on third-and-13 in the first quarter. On the previous play, Campbell had planted his foot to try to throw across the field to tight end Fred Davis and tweaked his groin. Zorn wanted to make sure his quarterback was OK before making him drop back and pass again.

Campbell told me after the game that the groin had been tight, and he was having trouble getting it loose. When he came off the field, Zorn wanted to make sure he was capable of scrambling. Campbell said "yep" and the subject didn't come up again.

Did the Rams inspire the Redskins? After the opening kickoff, the PA announcer at FedEx Field announced that the Rams had beaten the Cowboys, 34-14. The score flashed across two large video screens as fans roared. After the
game, Zorn told me he was too focused to notice the Cowboys' final.

Zorn scolds fans for running onto field: You may have missed two fans running onto the field before the Browns kicked off late in the fourth quarter. Antwaan Randle El horse-collared one of the guys before security arrived. Someone joked with Zorn about the situation, but it was obvious that he'd been upset about it.

"I thought it was weak and disruptive," Zorn said. "And it's unfair for them to choose themselves over the players. I was very upset at those two fans. It's poor taste. I hope they get arrested."

I've covered a lot of games, but I've never seen a head coach who's so gracious with his time. He talked for 15 minutes at the podium, and then he talked for another 15 minutes in the locker room. I don't know if Zorn can keep this up, but he's certainly made a favorable impression here.

Is Portis considering politics? A huge sign in one end zone encouraged fans to elect Clinton Portis President of the United States. Told about the sign, Portis said, "It would be great, but I don't think I should run this country."

He alluded to having a favorite candidate, but he decided against making a public endorsement. Left tackle Chris Samuels endorsed a candidate on this blog last week. When I saw him after the game, he said he'd received several comments about his choice.