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Clinton’s cure

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2006

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.

"Generally, defensive coaches will look at what we do and ask themselves what they have to take away," Saunders said. "When you look at our offense, from past history, you say you have to take away [Portis], you have to take away [Santana Moss] and you have to take away [Chris Cooley] and then go from there.

"When 26 isn't in the lineup, it's one less effective player they have to account for. He was worth 1,700 yards last year, and that's a lot of production. His mere presence presents problems for a defense."

Brunell completed passes to eight players, keeping the Texans in a state of befuddlement.

"This is how the organization viewed the offense once it got rolling," Portis said. "If you've got talent, use it. Now you know you have to cover everybody."

The Redskins' defense was on the field for 135 snaps the first two games as the offense struggled to put any kind of drive together. Against the Texans, the defense had 48 snaps and the offense 68 plays. A fresher defense equals a more aggressive defense.

"Our defense gets a tremendous boost whenever they see our offensive line control the line of scrimmage and see No. 26 or whoever's in there running the football and winning the run game," assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. "It's very demoralizing to a defense when you can't stop the run, and it's very motivating for us when we see our team ramming things down the opponent's throat."

Another dose of Classic Clinton will be needed Sunday against Jacksonville, which quarterback Mark Brunell yesterday called "the best defense in the league" and ranks third in total defense and fourth in rush defense. Portis went over 6,000 career rushing yards against the Texans, and a 32nd career 100-yard game could be required to defeat the Jaguars.

"Him being in the huddle, you want to block a little bit harder," assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel said. "You look at him and know he's a superstar, and you want to back him up."