The Washington Redskins inadvertently created an issue with their feel-good victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday: Does Clinton Portis have a future with the team?
Portis did not play against the Broncos because of a concussion he suffered the previous week, marking the first game he has missed since December 2006.
In his absence, the Redskins rushed for a season-high 174 yards and finally showed the smash-mouth mentality they have long desired.
The production by Ladell Betts since he replaced Portis early in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons - he rushed for 184 yards in seven quarters - raises the prospect that the Redskins would be better off with Betts as the top back or at a minimum the workload should be split once Portis returns.
Coach Jim Zorn was having none of it Monday at Redskin Park.
"I don't want a guy to lose his job because he had a concussion," he said. "[Portis] is our running back, and who knows what kind of game he would have had. I don't want to take away anything from what Rock [Cartwright] and Ladell did. They really helped us win."
The headaches and ringing ears Portis suffered as a result of the concussion have disappeared, Zorn said. But Portis still experiences blurred vision when he quickly turns his head - an obvious indication that he won't be available when the Redskins play the Cowboys on Sunday in Dallas.
"I don't know what the exact prognosis is," Zorn said. "I know he's improving, but with a concussion like most guys have we have to wait and wait properly and wait cautiously to make sure when he comes back he feels good, and we give all of us a good opportunity to be successful when he comes back."
The future of Portis was a topic of discussion even before he got injured. He averaged a 4.0 yards a carry, albeit running behind a constantly changing offensive line. That figure, however, is misleading: Two long runs (34 and 78 yards) accounted for 22.7 percent of his 494 yards.
During the Redskins' 6-2 start last season, Portis enjoyed a five-game stretch in which gained at least 121 yards in each contest. But in his past 16 games, he has reached 100 yards just twice.
"I think Clinton's been an excellent runner over the years, and I don't see any reason why he can't get through the line of scrimmage when he's ready," Zorn said. "I'm not going to try and push him through it and [say], 'You've got to go now. Ladell had a great game. You better watch out.' That's not the issue. The issue is his health. That's the main thing, and that's the only thing."
Zorn said he won't wait the entire week before ruling Portis in or out. He waited until Thursday last week.
What Zorn already has decided is that the offensive line that started against the Broncos - left tackle Levi Jones and right guard Chad Rinehart included - will remain intact.
Portis or no Portis, the Redskins enter a two-game NFC East road trip with a needed dose of confidence.
"It's funny because you feel so much better," rookie linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "Everybody is so upbeat, everybody is excited. We can use this as momentum for the next game, but at the same time you don't want to feel like 'that's it' and lose four more. We have to keep progressing and keep moving forward."
Said defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth: "We just got to keep it going. They always say the first win is the hardest one since we had this long drought."
The Redskins won at Dallas and Philadelphia in consecutive weeks last year. Washington wore down both opponents, holding the ball for 38:09 against the Cowboys and 34:45 against the Eagles. Portis rushed for a combined 266 yards, but that came behind an offensive line that included proven blockers Chris Samuels, Jon Jansen and Pete Kendall.
Zorn hopes the Redskins can bottle what worked last week and take it on the road, where they're 0-4 this year and losers of seven straight dating back to last year.
"The idea that we beat a team that was 6-2 and was a good defensive team statistically gives us confidence," he said. "All three phases helped us win that football game."