- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

As Clinton Portis lay in his hotel bed Saturday night, he dreamed of scoring a 99-yard touchdown on his first carry as a Washington Redskin.

Turns out he was off by 35 yards.

Portis’ first touch as the Redskins’ new feature back did indeed result in a touchdown, a 64-yard scamper to the end zone that is sure to go down as one of the greatest debuts in franchise history.

“I once heard if you dream big, big things will happen,” said Portis, whose 148 yards on 29 carries led Washington to a season-opening 16-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “That’s the way I think.”

The Redskins were thinking big when they traded perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey and a second-round pick to Denver for Portis. But even they have been pleasantly surprised by the immediate impact the 23-year-old tailback made.

“I’ve got to tell you, I think he’s a tough guy, and he really has the team’s interests at heart,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “I think he’s going to be a heck of a Redskin.”

Fans didn’t get much of a glimpse of Portis during the preseason: He carried the ball only 20 times for 77 yards in five games.

But his first official rushing attempt in Washington showcased exactly what made Portis one of the league’s most explosive runners during his two seasons in Denver.

The play, which came on first-and-15 at the Washington 36, was designed to go to the left. Portis, though, saw that side of the field was clogged, cut back to the right, burst through a huge hole and never looked back.

“It was actually supposed to go to the other side,” Portis said. “[The Bucs] over-pursued, so I just stayed ‘play-side.’ … There was only a safety there, so it was off to the races.”

Taylor limited

Rookie safety Sean Taylor, despite an incredible preseason, saw only limited action in his first NFL game. Andre Lott started at free safety, and Taylor’s first defensive play didn’t come until the second quarter.

Coaches said an illness early in the week, which caused Taylor to miss meetings and practice time, limited his action against the Bucs. Assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams, when asked specifically if Taylor was being disciplined, said no.

“We limited the packages he was in because of all the complex packages they were in,” Williams said. “He did well. I thought he played better in the third quarter than he did when he first got in early. But he’ll be fine. He’ll play more as he deserves more.”

Taylor, the draft’s fifth overall pick, recorded three interceptions and forced two fumbles during the preseason. He left the Sept. 3 finale with a mild thigh bruise and then came down with the illness early last week. After yesterday’s game, he dressed quickly and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Lott said he was expecting to start, having practiced with the first string all week. The three-year pro was credited with four tackles and a terrific pass defense late in the third quarter. On that play, Lott faked a blitz, dropped into coverage against wide receiver Michael Clayton and broke up a third-and-1 pass.

“I was very comfortable,” Lott said. “I was out there having fun with all the guys. It was great.”

Impeccable protection

The Redskins allowed a galling 81 sacks and shortened the life expectancy of quarterback Patrick Ramsey during the two years of the questionable pass protection schemes of former coach Steve Spurrier.

Six of those sacks came in a 35-13 whipping at the hands of the Buccaneers last October.

With Joe Gibbs running the offense yesterday for the first time in 12 years — and operating, if anything, with personnel inferior to that of Spurrier last season — the Bucs didn’t get to quarterback Mark Brunell at all.

All-Pro defensive end Simeon Rice, who embarrassed the Redskins with four sacks last year, didn’t come close to the Washington quarterback.

Two-time Pro Bowl tackle Chris Samuels, who had primary responsibility for blocking Rice, and veteran guard Randy Thomas declined to make a big deal of the impressive turnaround.

Second-year guard Derrick Dockery was less reticent.

“Chris was really excited before the game,” Dockery said. “He was yelling and having fun. This game wasn’t just another game for him, and he did a tremendous job.”

Dockery could have been speaking for all of the offensive line affectionately known as the “Dirtbags.” The line allowed a league-low three sacks in the preseason, despite playing more games (five) than any team except Denver.

Taking no chances

Gibbs defended his decision not to go for a fourth-and-inches at the Tampa Bay 3 early in the second quarter and instead send out John Hall for a chip-shot field goal.

“I felt like we had momentum at that point, and I don’t like to do something to change momentum,” said Gibbs, whose team led 7-0 at the time. “So that was probably my overriding feeling on that.”

Actually, it appeared the Redskins got a bad spot on Mark Brunell’s third-and-1 run. Replays showed Brunell landing inside the 2, good enough for a first down.

Gibbs could have challenged the spot but said neither his assistants nor rules expert Larry Hill advised him to do it.

Man in the middle

Antonio Pierce, playing in his fourth season with the Redskins, finally might have found a home.

The undrafted rookie started just 10 games as an outside linebacker from 2001 to 2003, but he sparkled in place of injured middle linebacker Mike Barrow in the preseason.

He continued to shine against the Bucs yesterday, making seven tackles, intercepting one pass and defending another.

“It wasn’t like how I felt the first game my rookie year, but it’s an opportunity I want to take advantage of,” Pierce said.

Pierce especially did that on the Bucs’ fourth play of the fourth quarter with the game tied 10-10.

Defensive tackle Jermaine Haley hit Brad Johnson, and his pass fluttered toward Pierce. Pierce caught the ball at the Washington 45 and ran 16 yards. John Hall kicked a 30-yard field goal six plays later to put the Redskins ahead to stay.

“That ball was in the air forever,” Pierce said. “I was like, ‘Don’t jump early and don’t drop it.’ I wanted to make sure that I held onto it and gave our offense good field position.”

Assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams also praised Pierce’s ability to get the defense in the proper alignment. Williams said the neophyte middle linebacker was able to make the proper call quicker than the coaches.

No halftime interview

Coach Joe Gibbs declined an interview request with Fox, which broadcasts the game, as he was leaving the field at halftime. Although such interviews are common, he later said he didn’t see any point in answering a few meaningless questions with so little time for intermission adjustments.

“What am I going to say?” Gibbs said. “I have 12 minutes. I’m trying to construct something at halftime to help our football team. I want to do the right things, but if I have an option, I want to get in [the locker room].”

Inactives

Linebacker Mike Barrow stretched on the field before the game but ultimately was held out. The 11-year veteran still has not played in a game, preseason or regular-season, for the Redskins.

Washington’s other inactives were defensive back Ryan Clark, running back Rock Cartwright, offensive lineman Mark Wilson, tight end Brian Kozlowski, wide receiver Darnerien McCants and defensive lineman Demetric Evans. Tim Hasselbeck was the third quarterback.

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