But Portis figured out what was going wrong.
The veteran back adjusted where he was lining up, and it started clicking. He finished with 96 yards and two touchdowns to help rally the Redskins to their 29-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
"Early on, I was too far into the line," Portis said. "I wasn't confident. I was missing reads, and I came right to the sideline and told Coach [Jim Zorn] that it was on me. Once I got back to the depth that I was supposed to be, things started to open up, and I was able to see. The lanes started to open up."
The Redskins trailed 17-9 late in the third quarter and faced second-and-goal at the 9 when Portis ran left and followed massive fullback Mike Sellers into the end zone.
"It was on [to the left side] today," Portis said. "It was just backside, and [offensive tackle] Chris [Samuels] and [guard] Pete [Kendall] was coming up to the backers, and Mike Sellers, you can tell when he's really into the game. I was like, 'I might as well hold on to him because they got to run through him to get to me.'"
Then, early in the fourth quarter, Kendall and center Casey Rabach opened a big hole on second-and-6 at the New Orleans 8, and Portis ran through it to pull the Redskins within 24-22.
Tough day on teams
Special teams coach Danny Smith couldn't really enjoy Washington's victory because two prominent members of his units had game-changing miscues.
Antwaan Randle El fumbled a punt return to set up New Orleans' first touchdown. Later, rookie punter Durant Brooks bobbled a snap as holder, causing Shaun Suisham to miss a chip-shot field goal. Brooks topped that with a line-drive punt to Reggie Bush, who returned it 55 yards for the touchdown that gave the Saints a nine-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
"Reggie made a great play, but he's a great player," Smith said. "Everything else was on us. Durant said the snap caught him by surprise, but he's the one calling for the ball. That was terrible.
"We didn't punt the ball worth a damn. I'm not worried about [Brooks'] spirits. I'm worried about my spirits right now. We've got a lot of work to do. He's got to prove that he can punt in this league. ... Antwaan has to put the ball away. We have to hold ourselves accountable. We made mistakes."
Smith wouldn't rule out making a change on punt returns, a role in which Randle El has struggled throughout his three years in Washington. Fellow receiver Santana Moss starred as a punt returner for the New York Jets.
Doughty sits with illness
Zorn got word when he got to the stadium Sunday morning that starting safety Reed Doughty had contracted stomach flu and wouldn't play.
"I got word he was throwing up and very sick," Zorn said. "They took him to the hospital this morning and tried to get his stomach calmed down, but every time he tried to jog, he would throw up again. We had to shut him down."
Rookie Chris Horton started in Doughty's place and had two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Meanwhile, two of Horton's fellow rookies made their debuts.
A week after fellow second-round pick Devin Thomas made his first NFL catch, receiver Malcolm Kelly and tight end Fred Davis made their pro debuts. Each had a catch for 6 yards.
Bush contained ... almost
Saints running back Reggie Bush again was a nonfactor against the Redskins in the running game, accounting for only 28 yards on 10 carries. But he nearly made up for it by making seven catches for 63 yards and taking a punt return 55 yards for a touchdown.
"Most of the day, he was running sideways," Zorn said. "We kept him at bay a lot of the game even though he got some yards."
Thirty-seven of Bush's 91 offensive yards came on the final drive of the first half.
First start for Blades
Second-year linebacker H.B. Blades made his first career start for the Redskins and was part of a defense that held the Saints to 55 rushing yards and an average of 2.9.
Blades, a sixth-round pick out of Pittsburgh in 2007, got the word in midweek that he would replace Marcus Washington, who was nursing a sore hamstring.
"I knew it was a possibility with his hamstring," said Blades, who was credited with six tackles, four unassisted. "Being a fourth linebacker is kind of rough. You never know when you're gonna get called in for what position. You've got to be ready."