- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006

PHILADELPHIA — In hindsight, Clinton Portis said, the play should have resulted in a 2-yard loss.

The Washington Redskins tailback appeared to be stuffed when he took a first-down handoff from Mark Brunell early in the fourth quarter yesterday at Lincoln Financial Field. But when Portis bounced out of the pack and burst around the left corner, the end zone suddenly came into focus.

“All I saw was daylight,” he said.

Twenty-two yards later, the Redskins’ new single-season rushing champion scored the touchdown that sent Washington to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.

Remember that controversial trade that brought Portis to town and sent All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey to Denver? The massive $50.5million contract extension the Redskins gave the then-22-year-old running back? It all looks good today, doesn’t it?

“I think he’s been validated,” tackle Jon Jansen said. “Everybody was talking last year about how he was a ‘system’ back and maybe didn’t fit our system and wasn’t going to be productive here. But here we are at 10-6, going to the playoffs, and he’s a 1,500-yard back. Those questions are answered.”

And he has done so with authority. After a frustrating inaugural season in Washington — he ran for 1,315 yards but averaged just 3.8 an attempt and rarely was an impact player — Portis has been reinvigorated.

He didn’t just shatter Stephen Davis’ franchise rushing record of 1,432 yards (set in 2001). He single-handedly took over games when the Redskins needed him most.

And with Brunell and the passing game floundering yesterday and a playoff berth slipping away, Portis put his teammates on his shoulders and willed them to a 31-20 victory. He gutted out 112 yards on 27 carries, scored a pair of touchdowns and broke Davis’ record with a 14-yard, second-quarter scamper en route to a 1,516-yard season.

“That’s big,” Portis said of the record-breaker. “That’s what they brought me here for.”

The Redskins knew they were getting a skilled, lightning-fast running back when they acquired Portis in February 2004. But they didn’t know they were also getting a tough, physical player that belies his 5-foot-11 frame.

The former University of Miami speedster has indeed transformed himself into a power back capable of thriving in coach Joe Gibbs’ offensive scheme.

“Obviously, he’s got great ability,” Gibbs said. “But I have to tell you that with his heart, he is a competitor from the word ‘Go.’ I don’t know of another running back that plays the way he does when he doesn’t have the ball under his arm. He’s very physical.”

Portis showcased that side of his game yesterday. Teammates were raving afterward about the block he delivered that helped give Brunell time to complete a long pass. And some of Portis’ best work also came after a nasty, third-quarter takedown by Juqua Thomas in which the Eagles defensive end collared Portis from behind and left him hobbling off the field.

“It twisted up my body,” said Portis, who also suffered a shoulder stinger late in the fourth quarter. “One day, I hope they throw a flag for that. Teams are going to do it until I start playing dirty. … Before long, I’m going to have to start kicking people.”

Portis got his revenge, but instead of kicking someone and drawing a personal foul, he used his feet for more noble purposes: running full-steam downfield with ball in hand.

He bullied the Eagles defense 5 and 6 yards at a time, and then sealed the deal with his 22-yard touchdown run.

With that momentous dash to daylight, Portis perhaps sealed his legacy in Washington. He’s no longer the “system” back from Miami who couldn’t succeed in Gibbs’ offense. He’s the Redskins’ single-season rushing king who led this formerly downtrodden franchise back to the playoffs.

“He’s doing the same thing he did in college, but I think he grew up so much where now you see the physical part of him,” said receiver Santana Moss, who also played with Portis at Miami. “In college, he was a slasher. He was fast. Now he’s showing that he can get in there and bang with those guys and can block with the biggest and the best. He just turned his game around so much from where he came from.”

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