- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2005

The clock-draining run game the Washington Redskins’ offense often missed this season surfaced yesterday with backup running back Ladell Betts starting in place of injured Clinton Portis.

Betts, a second-round pick in 2002 who was once forecast to be the feature back, capped a strong performance with six straight rushes on a drive that began with 8:35 remaining. Those runs went 56 yards and drained more than four minutes off the clock to help seal a season-ending 21-18 win over the Minnesota Vikings at FedEx Field.

Although the Redskins didn’t score on that possession, they burned all but the final 1:58. The Vikings didn’t have enough time to rally from an 11-point deficit.

“We just started to wear them down,” Betts said. “We stuck with the run. Especially when we needed it most, on that last drive, we milked the clock.”

Such a running game was supposed to be the foundation of coach Joe Gibbs’ offense, but Portis and the offense struggled much of the year to get in sync. Although Portis, sidelined yesterday with a pectoral tear, rushed for 1,315 yards, he had seven games with 70 or fewer yards.

Betts’ 26 carries tied a career-high and his 118 yards set another as he made the most of a brief opportunity to showcase his talents. With two years left on his rookie contract, Betts seems likely to spend the foreseeable future as Portis’ backup. However, Gibbs likes the team’s 1-2 punch.

“I told Clinton all year, ‘Anytime you feel winded, not comfortable or hurt, just get out of there, because we’ll put Ladell in there,’” Gibbs said. “We feel good about that.”

Samuels’ last hurrah?

Gibbs gave left tackle Chris Samuels a vote of confidence following what might have been the final Redskins game for the one-time Pro Bowl pick.

Speculation is swirling about Samuels’ future following his fifth NFL season, in which he rebounded from lousy 2002 and 2003 seasons but participated in a generally erratic offensive line and didn’t earn even alternate status for the Pro Bowl.

A 2001 Pro Bowl starter, Samuels could get traded or cut this offseason unless Washington can rework the $6.5million he is scheduled to make in 2005. But Gibbs sounds eager to stick with Samuels, blaming himself for the one sack Samuels surrendered all year and even saying Samuels showed “real leadership” with right tackle Jon Jansen out.

“Chris had probably one of the best years,” Gibbs said. “Other than that [one sack], I think he had a perfect year.”

Said Samuels: “I thought I had a pretty good season overall. Last year, coming off the bad year, I really wasn’t myself out there. I just didn’t play like I wanted to. But this year, I made it a goal in my life to come back and be a pro — film work, weight room, everything it takes. I think I did just that.”

Added Samuels: “I’m just looking forward to being back. I don’t want to play for anyone else.”

Gutting it out

Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs not only played with a sprained foot and sprained shoulder, but he missed the start of the second half because he was in the locker room vomiting in the wake of the concussion that kept him out of the Dec.18 game at San Francisco.

“I was pretty nauseous, but I had to get back out there with [fellow cornerback] Fred [Smoot] out,” Springs said. “I couldn’t go down. I looked to the sideline and we didn’t have anybody.”

When Springs was out, rookie Garnell Wilds joined veteran Walt Harris as the starting corners. Rufus Brown, just promoted from the practice squad, was the only other corner.

Springs was only a second alternate for the Pro Bowl, but he became just the third player to lead his team in interceptions (five) and sacks (six, tying defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin).

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, linebackers Junior Seau of San Diego (1997) and Joey Porter of Pittsburgh (2002) were the others.

“When I came here people said, ‘Springs is always injured and he’s no Champ [Bailey, his perennial Pro Bowl predecessor],’” Springs said. “All I said was, ‘You all make the choice after the season about whether it was smart.’ ”

Linebacker Marcus Washington played the whole game despite not practicing all week because of a sprained knee.

Royal treatment

Robert Royal closed the 2004 season on a high note. The tight end scored four touchdowns in the final five weeks, including yesterday’s 4-yard reception from Patrick Ramsey.

Though he rarely was one of Ramsey’s top passing targets, Royal showed a knack for coming up with big plays in the red zone after taking over for released veteran Walter Rasby in midseason. Royal caught just eight passes for the season, but four were touchdowns, making a strong impression on Washington’s coaching staff.

“Honestly, I don’t think I’ve proven anything — I think the coaches knew what kind of player I was,” Royal said. “The thing I did prove to them was that I can make plays. I’ll just try to build on that.”

Royal wasn’t the only tight end who got into the action yesterday. Chris Cooley scored on a 6-yard pass from Ramsey in the first quarter, giving the rookie H-back six touchdowns for the year.

Brown’s swan song?

Redskins offensive tackle Ray Brown, who turned 42 in December, still isn’t sure if he’ll return for a 20th season.

“I feel good,” said Brown. “I’m healthy. … Being so close to winning three in a row to finish the season will definitely weigh heavily in my decision.”

By the numbers

Laveranues Coles’ three catches gave him 90 for the season, a total topped in Redskins history only by Art Monk’s 91 in 1985 and team-record 106 in 1984. …

The Redskins’ 21 points gave them 240, 10 more than the 11-year-old team record for the fewest in a 16-game season. …

Washington committed just three penalties for 13 yards to finish with 115 penalties for 1,045 yards, shy of the team records of 124 penalties (2003) and 1,110 penalty yards (1948).

Next year’s schedule

The Redskins will play at Arizona and St. Louis of the NFC West and Denver and Kansas City of the AFC West in 2005. San Francisco and Seattle of the NFC West and Oakland and San Diego of the AFC West will play at Washington.

Washington will also visit Tampa Bay of the NFC South and play host to Chicago of the NFC North. The Redskins had a chance to finish third in the NFC East, but the New York Giants’ victory over Dallas ended it. The Giants finished ahead of the Redskins because of a superior division record.

Inactives

Cornerback Fred Smoot (bruised kidney), offensive linemen Jim Molinaro and Vaughn Parker, defensive tackle Cedric Killings, receiver Darnerien McCants and tight end Kori Dickerson were listed as inactive for yesterday’s game. Tim Hasselbeck was the third quarterback.

McCants, who re-signed on March 30 for $4.5million over three years, played in just five games with five catches for 71 yards and no touchdowns. McCants had caught 48 passes for 616 yards and eight touchdowns the previous two seasons.

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