Monday, December 6, 2004

He spent much of the fourth quarter standing on the sideline again yesterday. But what a difference a week can make.

Where Clinton Portis sat like a garaged Ferrari during last week’s one-sided loss in Pittsburgh, the running back yesterday was in high gear from the opening snap by the Washington Redskins offense.

After carrying just six times for 17 yards against the Steelers, Portis ran 31 times for 148 yards and scored two touchdowns before ending his day with the Redskins’ 31-7 victory over the New York Giants secured.

“Coach said he was going to put it on my shoulders,” said Portis, who had managed just 37 yards on 17 carries in Philadelphia the week before the Pittsburgh game. “Any time you have that challenge … you’ve got to find a way to step forward.”

Portis found the ball in his hands on the first five plays — producing 35 yards — and on the 1-yard touchdown run that completed the opening 13-play, 93-yard march. The score was Washington’s first on the ground in eight games.

By halftime, Portis had 90 yards on 15 carries and had scored on a shovel pass from Patrick Ramsey to finish a 10-play, 91-yard drive. The Redskins, who hadn’t scored more than 18 points in any of their first 11 games, built a 21-0 margin.

Portis ran with quickness and flair, hitting holes perfectly and leaping over would-be tacklers, and he displayed patience and gained yards when the play didn’t set up exactly as designed.

“We felt badly about last week,” said assistant head coach/offense Joe Bugel. “We told Clinton, ‘We’re going to run you until you step on your tongue.’ We did that today.”

Portis and Bugel traded barbs about the offense after the Week 4 loss in Cleveland, but the flashy 23-year-old had been a good soldier after the loss to the Steelers. He was rewarded yesterday for that unselfish attitude.

“When you know something can work and it’s not working, you get frustrated, [but] I know guys are depending on me, guys are going to follow me so I can’t blow my lid and we lose the team,” Portis said.

Not that Portis has totally abandoned his “look at me” persona.

He and former University of Miami teammate Sean Taylor junked the usual white socks for red ones.

And as the game ended, Portis celebrated outgaining Giants red-hot back Tiki Barber by 110 yards with a gaudy belt worthy of a boxing champion as he had done last year when he outrushed Kansas City star Priest Holmes while playing for AFC West rival Denver.

“I’ll probably get fined, but I had to change my outfit,” Portis said. “The white socks have been killing me. If you’re not looking sweet, you really can’t play too sweet. … They were talking about Tiki Barber being the best back in the NFL so I pulled the belt out.

“If you outperform those guys head up, I think I’m the best back in the NFL. I haven’t gotten rolling, but I’m going to prove to people that I’m worth everything.”

That being four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, this year’s second-round draft choice and an eight-year, $50.5 million contract, the price the Redskins paid to obtain him from the Broncos and keep him happy after the March deal.

For all his ups and downs, Portis is on pace to run for a Redskins-record 1,457 yards.

“We’re finally finding our personality with that little guy as kind of the bell cow of the offense,” Bugel said.

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