- The Washington Times - Monday, November 16, 2009

He’s one of the team’s longest-tenured players, but after his best game in nearly three years, Ladell Betts joked that he had forgotten how to get to the postgame interview room.

A 26-carry, 114-yard performance earned Betts the trip to the podium to face the media, a week after the team lost star running back Clinton Portis indefinitely to a concussion.

But aside from the 15 carries he had in the loss to Atlanta when Portis initially got injured, Betts hadn’t been heard from in a while.

Back in 2006, he excelled almost immediately upon taking over for Portis, who injured his hand and missed the final seven games of the season. Rather than test free agency, Betts signed a five-year, $11 million contract extension with four games to go that season.

He finished with more than 1,100 yards rushing that season, but since that career year Betts hasn’t come close to duplicating that success. Nor has he had the opportunity to start, with a healthy Portis starting every game in each of the last three seasons.

But Betts, whose seniority on Washington’s roster is topped only by long snapper Ethan Albright, said he has never regretted signing that extension.

“I don’t look back and try to dwell on the past,” Betts said. “Everything happens for a reason. There’s a reason why I’m here… and why I was able to get another opportunity.”

For a while last week, it was unclear whether Betts would be able to take advantage of the rare chance. He sprained his left ankle against the Falcons and didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday before a limited Friday session.

Quarterback Jason Campbell never doubted Betts would play, though.

“Ladell, I can’t say enough about the guy,” Campbell said. “The offensive line did a great job of giving him some holes to run through.”

That didn’t happened early; Betts gained just 23 yards on his first nine carries against the Broncos.

However, with Washington trailing 17-14 at halftime, coach Jim Zorn asked the offensive players how they wanted to approach the second half.

“We said, ‘Running downhill,’ ” Betts said. “That’s what we did. They kept dialing [the runs] up. Myself and Rock [Cartwright] just allowed the linemen to get on their blocks, and we kept making yards.”

During the final 24 minutes, Betts churned out 109 yards on 17 carries, including the 1-yard score with 3:48 left that broke a 17-17 tie.

“The running game is not always 8-yard runs and 10-yard runs,” center Casey Rabach said. “We don’t mind grinding it out. That’s eventually what we did.”

In all, the Redskins ran for 174 yards on 40 carries against a Broncos defense ranked third overall and eighth against the run. Rabach said it brought back memories of his first two Washington seasons: 2005, when Portis powered the Redskins to the playoffs for the first time in six years, and 2006, when Betts was the team’s featured back down the stretch.

“This is what I came to know when I first got here under coach [Joe] Gibbs and the first eight games of last year,” said Rabach, referring to 2008’s 6-2 start, when Portis was the NFL’s top rusher. “This is kind of how we did things around here.”

For the first time in almost a year, Redskins middle linebacker London Fletcher was happy standing on the sideline and watching Washington’s offense operate.

“That looked like what we thought our offense would look like, obviously [with] a different cast of characters,” Fletcher said. “NFC East football… our team was really built on being able to run the football, to do what we did today against a highly regarded defense.”

Whether it was a one-game blip and whether Portis gets cleared to play next week at Dallas remain in doubt. But for one sunny afternoon, Betts was back in the spotlight.

“It’s all about coaches believing in you,” Betts said. “Sometimes when you don’t get to play it feels like they don’t believe in you. When you get a chance to prove people wrong, that’s what we got a chance to do today.”

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