- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2006

Yesterday produced Exhibit A among the reasons Joe Gibbs gave up a Pro Bowl cornerback and a day-one draft choice for Clinton Portis in March 2004.

The Washington Redskins needed to run against a stingy Jacksonville Jaguars defense. Portis delivered 112 yards on 27 carries against a team that had allowed only 177 yards in its first three games.

The Redskins needed to control possession and keep their short-handed defense off the field. Portis churned out a 4.1-yard average, and the Redskins kept the ball for more than 36 minutes. The Jaguars averaged 14 more minutes of possession than their opponents entering the game.

And the Redskins desperately needed a victory to get out of the hole in which they put themselves with nonexistent offensive performances against Minnesota and Dallas. Portis’ talent as a runner, receiver and blocker — along with three Santana Moss touchdowns — propelled the Redskins to a thrilling 36-30 win over the Jaguars.

Question CEO Joe all you want — and we have — for acquiring Mark Brunell for a high draft pick, giving up on Patrick Ramsey after two quarters in the 2005 opener and allowing defensive standouts Antonio Pierce, Fred Smoot and Ryan Clark to leave via free agency.

But one of Gibbs’ first moves remains his best and most important.

With Portis at full strength, the Redskins are 2-0 and have nearly 1,000 yards of offense. Without Portis at full strength or in the lineup, the Redskins are 0-2 and have one offensive touchdown.

Further, Portis rises to the moment against the league’s best teams or in must-win situations. Last year, he produced five straight 100-yard games to finish the regular season when the Redskins needed to run the table to reach the postseason.

Last week at Houston, he had 85 yards on only 16 carries and also had a 74-yard reception that set up a score.

Jacksonville presented the same kind of challenge Tampa Bay and Denver did last year. The Jaguars had two gigantic defensive tackles (Marcus Stroud and John Henderson), a solid safety (Donovin Darius) and a star middle linebacker (Mike Peterson).

As if Portis needed any more motivation entering the game, Peterson — like Portis, a Florida native — provided it during the week.

Jacksonville had not allowed a 100-yard rushing game since last year against St. Louis, a span of 12 games. Peterson said Portis would struggle.

“He was running off at the mouth like I had no experience facing top defenses,” Portis said. “I took that personally. For him to say that, being from the same hometown, I felt like that was a shot at me and disrespectful. When I heard that, my goal was to come out and run downhill.”

Thanks to a game plan by Al Saunders that called for more outside runs than up-the-gut rushes, Portis got into a groove in the first quarter. His second carry was a 12-yard gain, followed by a 5-yard rush.

In the first half, he had nine carries for 42 yards and the Redskins trailed 17-13.

In the second half and overtime, Portis returned to his workhorse ways and Saunders fulfilled his promise to lean on one back. Portis had 20 carries in the final two-plus quarters.

During two scoring drives that turned a 17-13 deficit into a 27-17 lead, Portis ran on 10 of the 17 offensive plays. He capped the first march with a 1-yard touchdown run and helped the second with runs of 9, 3, 3 and 8 yards.

In overtime, Portis gained 17 yards on two runs.

“We’ve been working on the run forever and the first two games, we couldn’t run it at all,” tight end Christian Fauria said. “We knew outside was the way to go. They had two studs inside and not that the outside guys were bad players, but they weren’t as good as the tackles.”

Said receiver Brandon Lloyd: “Whoever thought we couldn’t do that wasn’t in our locker room. Nobody in here questioned for one second that we wouldn’t be able to run the ball like we did tonight.”

The Redskins have rushed for 234 and 152 yards the last two games. And as long as Portis stays healthy, Saunders’ offensive vision — bell-cow running back, play-making receivers, make-it-happen tight end — will become a reality for the Redskins.

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