- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

PITTSBURGH — Clinton Portis came to Washington as the man around whom Joe Gibbs would build the Redskins offense.

Yesterday, Portis nearly was invisible in that offense, delivering the least productive day of his career as a starting running back in the NFL.

The Redskins guaranteed themselves another nonwinning season with a 16-7 loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Portis barely touched the ball.

Portis was on pace at midseason to challenge the NFL record for carries. He carried just six times for 17 yards yesterday at Heinz Field, his lowest total in each category since he became a starter for the Denver Broncos in the fifth game of his rookie season in 2002.

“Clinton is a heck of a back. I felt like today [passing] was our best way to get downfield,” said Gibbs, who called a Spurrieresque 40-14 pass-run ratio. “We were just trying to move the ball the best we could and wound up throwing it quite a bit. Therefore Clinton wound up not getting many carries.

“I’m sure he’ll be upset about it. I expect him to be. He’s very competitive.”

Portis was coming off his worst game as a Redskin; he gained just 37 yards on 17 carries in last week’s loss at Philadelphia.

Portis, decked out in a brown fur coat and matching hat in the locker room, seemed more shocked than angry about his lack of work yesterday.

“I’m not upset about the carries,” said Portis, who ran for more than 1,500 yards in each of his two seasons with the Broncos. “I’m upset we’re not winning. There’s no need for me to question the coaches. I’m not the offensive coordinator. I don’t draw up things.

“I never had a day in Denver where I had 30 yards in a game, but I’m not in Denver anymore. I’m in Washington. I’ve got to find a way to be a key player in this system.”

Asked how he felt about standing on the sideline watching his team lose for the eighth time in 11 games, Portis said, “If only you knew, man. I can’t do nothing standing on the sidelines, can’t be a threat to the other team. It’s hard.

“But I adjusted to the situation. I adjusted to the cold standing on the sideline. I put a jacket on, and I sat on the warm bench.”

Bench-warming is hardly what the Redskins expected when they traded four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey for the 23-year-old Portis in March — particularly not after rewarding Portis with an eight-year, $50.5million contract that included $13million in immediate bonus money.

“I didn’t realize that Clinton wasn’t in the game,” right guard Ray Brown said. “A lot of [the running games struggles] should fall on the offensive line. We wanted to run the ball, but we didn’t do a good job of zone blocking in the first quarter which probably scared [the coaches] from dialing up those runs.”

Portis didn’t touch the ball on the Redskins’ first series and gained nine yards on his four runs in the first quarter. He gained a yard on the first play of the second half and ran once more, a 7-yard burst around left end late in the third quarter.

Backup running back Ladell Betts split time with Portis and was more productive, gaining 34 yards on eight carries and catching three passes for 35 yards.

“[Ladell] went out and played great,” Portis said. “They chose to go with L, and he responded. He took advantage of the opportunity. You can’t blame them for sticking with him.”

Portis said he didn’t see his lack of work as a harbinger.

“I’m not worried about losing my job,” Portis said. “I would think it’s still is my job. If not, I’ll be backing L up.”

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