- The Washington Times - Monday, November 23, 2009

ARLINGTON, Texas | In the middle of a nightmare scenario, Rock Cartwright got to live his dream.

With starter Clinton Portis already missing, the Redskins’ running back situation deteriorated into desperation late in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to Dallas when backup Ladell Betts was sidelined with a left knee injury.

Enter Rock Cartwright, longtime kick return/special teams ace and wannabe featured back.

“This,” the diminutive veteran said, “is something I’ve dreamed about, to be able to go in and be the back, to be able to put the team on my back and carry it. I dream about that. This is what you live for, just for this opportunity.”

Cartwright took the opportunity and ran with it - and that’s not to mention his receiving.

For much of Sunday’s game, Cartwright was the Washington offense. In his first drive as the No. 1 back, he accounted for 31 of the 45 yards gained by the Redskins on the way to the game’s first points, a 45-yard Shaun Suisham field goal.

He shifted field position with a 34-yard run, taking an inside run outside and outracing linebacker Keith Brooking. He made play after play in the passing game, including a 29-yard gain in which he circled out of the backfield and blew past defenders after the catch.

He wound up with the most productive day from scrimmage of his eight NFL seasons, rushing 13 times for 67 yards - averaging 5.2 yards a carry - and catching seven passes for 73 yards, both career highs. The 140 combined yards surpassed the 118 he posted in 2005, and his 13 rushing attempts were his most since 2003, when he recorded all three of his career starts.

“He proved his toughness,” quarterback Jason Campbell said. “We always knew that about Rock, but everyone got a chance to see it today. … He just continues to fight. He’s a little guy with a lot of heart, and I’d like to be in a huddle with a guy like that anytime.”

That’s part of why there was no panic when Betts went down and Cartwright stepped in.

Indeed, the rest of the offensive starters felt no need to offer extra encouragement to the career backup stepping into an unfamiliar role. It was, in fact, the other way around.

“He was the one encouraging us,” tackle Stephon Heyer said. “Rock’s been around the block for a while, so there’s nothing really we need to say. He’s not a rookie. He doesn’t need much from us to do what he does.”

What he did was run with abandon, banging inside for tough yards in addition to breaking big plays. It was the kind of performance that earns respect as much as it earned yardage.

“He was a warrior out there to do what he did, and we’ll need that to continue,” coach Jim Zorn said.

The question now is for how long? Portis has already been ruled out for next week’s game at Philadelphia. Betts’ status will be determined after he undergoes an MRI on Monday.

Which means Cartwright might be called on to carry the load for a while. Sunday’s performance, he said, showed he can do just that.

“I think I have it, but it’s not up to me,” he said. “People’s perception of me is ‘He’s just a special teams guy.’ But I know in my heart I can run the football and I can catch the football with the best of them. I can do a lot of stuff. I can offer a lot to anybody.

“This is something you wish for, something you want. So I’m going to take this challenge and go with it.”

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