NEW ORLEANS — Five weeks ago, Ladell Betts was an impending free agent whose resume included little experience as a starter and a sketchy injury history.
Now, the running back has a new contract and, after four productive starts in place of Clinton Portis, stands on the cusp of his first 1,000-yard season.
Betts rushed for 119 yards yesterday in the Washington Redskins’ 16-10 upset of the New Orleans Saints and needs only 67 yards over the next two games to reach 1,000.
Betts gained only 18 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 19, his first start in place of the injured Portis. He has gained 104, 155, 171 and 119 yards in the four starts since, a stretch in which the Redskins won twice.
“It’s a little surprising, I have to be honest,” Betts said. “But at the same time, I have confidence in myself. I wasn’t worried about my production because I knew it was just a matter of getting an opportunity. I got one, and I’ve run with it.”
The Redskins have run over their opponents the past four games, averaging 35.8 carries and 172.8 yards.
“Ladell has made a real statement for himself,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “We know he is an exceptional back, but the way he’s stepped up and led the team is super important for us.”
Betts averaged an impressive 5.4 yards an attempt against the Saints. In his four-game roll, he had 22 carries of 10 yards or more.
Betts’ last 1,000-yard season came as a senior at Iowa in 2001, when he gained 1,060 yards.
“I’ve been thinking about it the last couple weeks, but I’m really close to it now,” he said of the milestone.
Taking no chances
The Redskins’ troubles in the red zone continued against the Saints. They failed to score a touchdown in three trips inside the 20-yard line yesterday and have not scored a touchdown in their last nine trips into the red zone.
Two opportunities to break that streak were bypassed yesterday when Gibbs elected to kick field goals rather than go for a touchdown.
The Redskins faced third-and-1 at the Saints 14-yard line on the first drive of the game. Quarterback Jason Campbell dropped the snap and recovered his fumble, bringing up fourth-and-1 from the same spot.
Rather than go for it, Gibbs opted to attempt a 37-yard field goal (the Redskins sent out the field goal unit and were called for delay of game, resulting in a longer attempt).