Clinton’s cure

It took three snaps for Clinton Portis’ presence within the Washington Redskins’ offense to be truly felt. And this came after he was stopped for no gain on a third-and-1 running play early in the first quarter Sunday against the Houston Texans.

On the sideline following another three-and-out, Portis used a couple of unprintable words to tell his teammates that another game of offensive struggles was unacceptable.

“It was about determination,” Portis said. “Going out and running the ball three straight times on our opening drive and not picking up the third-and-1 after everybody was asking all week for the running game, I was like, ‘Let’s pick it up.’”

And the Redskins obliged, piling up 495 yards of offense — their most since December 1999 — to get their first win of the season, 31-15 over the Texans. In his return to the lineup, Portis rushed for 86 yards and two touchdowns and caught two passes for 78 yards.

In a statistical sense, Portis’ worth to the Redskins is clear: He is the linchpin.

“He’s a proven product,” coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday at Redskin Park. “All the things we go through and the joking around we do with Clinton, when it comes to the game, he loves it. He understands how to play it, and he’s as good as anybody I’ve seen.”

With him playing part time against Minnesota and not at all in Dallas, the Redskins were 0-2, had one offensive touchdown in 22 possessions, a nonexistent running game and an under-fire quarterback.

With Portis back to playing full time, the Redskins rushed for 234 yards and scored four touchdowns on their first six possessions. Mark Brunell completed his first 22 passes, an NFL record.

“Clinton’s a playmaker, and anytime he’s in there, you don’t know what can happen,” right tackle Jon Jansen said. “He got in there [Sunday], made a big play right away [on a 74-yard shovel pass] and got the ball rolling.”

Portis also demonstrated against Houston how valuable his mere presence in the lineup is to a team that remains in need of a winning streak so its season isn’t over before the first round of the baseball playoffs.

Although Portis, 25, is the team’s third-youngest starter, he has become the face of the Redskins off the field. He’s a regular on NFL Network commercials and the team’s heart, soul and pulse on the field.

“Teams should have guys like that, the superstars,” cornerback Shawn Springs said. “They’re the guys who get the big bucks. I had Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander in Seattle. Cincinnati has Chad Johnson and Carson Palmer.”

Said center Casey Rabach: “He gave us that little extra oomph, just knowing we were at full strength, finally, with all our starters in there.”

Portis’ presence makes life easier for everybody on offense and defense. The offense knows No. 26 can be the No. 1 option in the running game, can catch passes and is an excellent blocker.

Associate head coach-offense Al Saunders called five consecutive run plays for Portis to start the game and then the shovel pass that Portis turned into a 74-yard gain. The Redskins were markedly better on first down, averaging 5.3 yards on 27 snaps. That allowed Saunders to employ most of the game plan without having to worry about using second down to get into a manageable third-down situation.

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