- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Past the clumps of mud decorating the locker room’s faded burgundy carpet, victory smelled like grass and stale sweat.

In a corner, Alfred Morris surveyed the whoops and season-saving grins Monday night as the clock crept toward midnight. The pads that absorbed many of the blows during his 22 carries that ground up 124 yards rested upside down on the carpet, straddled by a cameraman.

The rookie didn’t feel like one anymore.

“I came from nowhere, out of nothing,” Morris said. “I’ll never take this for granted. I’m just thankful.”

As fans streamed from FedEx Field, drunk on hope after the Washington Redskins survived a 17-16 win over the New York Giants, they didn’t chant Morris’ name. They saved that for rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.

But Morris is accustomed to being overlooked. One hundred seventy-two players were picked ahead of him in April’s NFL draft. Concerns over his speed and ability to hang onto the football followed him from Florida Atlantic University. So did the poise, vision and ability to cut back that made him an ideal fit for Redskins coach Mike Shanahan’s outside zone running scheme. He can carry the ball on every down, is a receiving threat out of the backfield and, aside from a key fumble the Giants recovered in third quarter, clings to the football like his starting job.

Shanahan, of course, is famous for his late-round discoveries at running back, from Terrell Davis to Mike Anderson to Olandis Gary and more. Add Morris to that list.

“Man, he’s been so dynamic since the first day he came in,” tackle Trent Williams said, “When we didn’t even have pads on [during training camp], he was making cuts that made people take a step back and say, ‘Dang, who is this guy?’”

Those cuts haven’t stopped. As the Redskins’ season teetered between playoff contention and irrelevance Monday, Morris carried his team on his sculpted shoulders. As usual, he did nothing fancy. Instead, Morris hurled his 219 pounds at the Giants in relentless fashion and, when holes appeared, accelerated through with his no longer surprising burst.

While Griffin landed national endorsements, special weekly media availability and became an object of national fascination, Morris drives an old Mazda and, at least off the field, acts like your next door neighbor.

The running back no other team wanted broke the Redskins’ season rookie rushing record, set by Reggie Brooks in 1993, with a 16-yard scamper in the third quarter and upped his season total to 1,106 yards. He’s the Redskins’ first 1,000-yard rusher since Clinton Portis in 2008.

The last drive showed the critical role Morris assumed, as four of the last five plays went to him. The team carried so long by Griffin belonged, for a minute, to the other rookie.

“That guy’s a stud,” center Will Montgomery said.

As the clock crept under a minute, Morris took the final handoff on third-and-3, broke through would-be tacklers, slipped, plowed and fought for 6 yards to gain the first down that allowed the Redskins to run out the clock. The Giants never had the opportunity to try a game-winning drive.

“We say it looks like he’s out there playing peewee football, he just won’t go down,” Griffin said. “He plays every play like it’s his last and that’s what we love about him.”

• Nathan Fenno can be reached at nfenno@washingtontimes.com.

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