PHILADELPHIA | Who’s the odd team out in the NFC East? The Washington Redskins, with the least-experienced quarterback and head coach in the division, are doing everything in their power to say, “Not us.”
Running back Clinton Portis sliced and diced his way across the turf of Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, powering the surprising Redskins to a 23-17 win over the Philadelphia Eagles and their second straight victory on the road against an NFC East opponent.
Portis ran for a season-high 145 yards on 29 carries - his crucial 3-yard run on a fourth down in the final quarter sealed the outcome - and helped the Redskins turn a 14-0 first-quarter deficit into another big win.
The victory was the fourth straight for the Redskins and, after last week´s win over the Cowboys in Dallas, placed the team comfortably in the thick of an ultracompetitive division race.
The Redskins now are 4-1 for the first time since 1999, when they went on to finish 10-6 and win the NFC East - a remarkable position for a team that opened the season with modest expectations and a cringe-inducing loss to the New York Giants, who lead the division at 4-0. Washington is tied with Dallas for second place at 4-1.
The club’s strong position after Sunday’s win also provides a measure of validation for Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who in the offseason gambled with the selection of Jim Zorn, who never before had served as a National Football League head coach or offensive coordinator, to lead the team.
“This is not a soft division,” said Mr. Zorn, who last year served as the quarterbacks coach for the Seattle Seahawks. “This is a very tough division. We’re certainly not the overriding favorite … so you count every win as a blessing if you can get it.”
Widely held opinion suggested at the beginning of the season that the NFC East is strong enough to send three of its four teams to the playoffs.
The Redskins, with their rookie coach and third-year quarterback, weren’t necessarily expected to be one of those clubs.
But last week’s inspiring victory over the Cowboys and Sunday’s win over the Eagles put the Redskins in strong position: They’ve beaten two of their three division foes and next face a trio of teams - the St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions - that collectively have only one victory.
The Redskins got their win Sunday largely because of the efforts of Portis, who demolished an Eagles defense that had allowed an NFL-best 53.8 yards a game on the ground. Ladell Betts added 44 yards on nine carries as the Redskins racked up 203 total yards on the ground.
“We knew this is a tough team to run against, and I think our offensive line took it personally,” Portis said, deflecting praise to his teammates who repeatedly opened large holes.
Portis scored the eventual game-winning touchdown when he ran in virtually untouched from 4 yards out to put the Redskins up 23-14 as the third quarter expired.
Earlier in the quarter, wide receiver Antwaan Randle El gave the Redskins their first lead when he took a handoff and passed the ball 18 yards for a touchdown to tight end Chris Cooley.
Quarterback Jason Campbell, meanwhile, produced another solid if unspectacular effort, completing 16 of 29 passes for 176 yards. The Eagles’ secondary shut down deep threat Santana Moss, so Campbell found other targets: Cooley finished with eight catches for a career-high 109 yards facing coverage mainly from the Eagles’ linebackers.
“I felt confident, and that’s not saying anything bad about the Eagles’ linebackers, but I thought that I had a good matchup,” Cooley said. “I was able to make some good plays, and it feels good.”
The Redskins defense dominated the last three quarters, allowing the Eagles only a field goal and a mere 20 yards rushing in those periods - reversing what early on appeared would be a rout by Philadelphia.
The Eagles opened the game with an 80-yard drive on 12 plays capped by a 9-yard touchdown run by Brian Westbrook. Moments later, dynamic rookie DeSean Jackson scored on a 68-yard punt return that gave Philadelphia a 14-0 lead heading into the second quarter. At that point, the Redskins had held the ball for barely more than three minutes and had gained a total of 23 yards.
“We couldn’t worry about the 14-0; we had to get [our] first score,” Mr. Zorn said. “We couldn’t worry about how dominant they were being over us. We had to just maintain our poise. … It must have looked frightening to everyone.”
Kicker Shaun Suisham kept the Redskins in the game with three field goals outside of 40 yards, and his team entered the half trailing 14-9.
Campbell, meanwhile, was methodical in controlling the offense and did not throw an interception against an aggressive Eagles defense that entered the game ranked among the league leaders in takeaways.
Campbell was sacked only once and showed moments of great poise, including an important 15-yard scramble on third down that kept alive a Redskins drive with just under four minutes left in the game.
Less than a minute later, the Redskins could have given Philadelphia one final chance to retake the lead, but they came through with a gutsy fourth-down call.
Facing fourth-and-1 at the Eagles’ 38-yard line, Portis called his own number and ran a draw play for a 3-yard gain and a first down. With the Eagles out of timeouts, that play secured the win.
“I’m telling you, it was all Clinton Portis,” Mr. Zorn said. “He called the play. And as we ran the play, he willed his way to a first down. I had a great view of his grit. … He called it, he ran it, and he got it. It was a huge, huge play in the football game.”