Skipping over Portis wasn't a swift move

ON THE NFL

December 14, 2003|By KEN MURRAY

If it wasn't his revolving quarterbacks, it was his troubled running back. If it wasn't the running back, it was his recalcitrant wide receiver. If it wasn't the wide receiver, it was his injury-racked offensive line.

It was always something this year for Butch Davis, struggling through the worst of his three seasons as coach of the Cleveland Browns. Today in Denver, it figures to get a little worse.

That's because Davis' draft past will come back to haunt him in the person of Broncos running back Clinton Portis.

In the 2002 draft, Davis, badly needing a running back, took William Green with the 16th pick of the first round. Portis, who played for Davis at Miami, didn't get selected until the 51st pick of the second round, after T.J. Duckett (18) and DeShaun Foster (34).

Green showed flashes after a slow start, but this year has been suspended by both the team and the league (for violating the substance abuse program). Duckett has been a decent back with the Atlanta Falcons, and Foster has been limited with the Carolina Panthers by a knee injury. Portis, meanwhile, has clearly emerged as one of the elite runners in the NFL in his second season.

After rushing for 1,508 yards as a rookie, Portis has 1,452 this season, second best in the AFC behind the Ravens' Jamal Lewis. He has gained 165, 170 and 218 yards the past three weeks and is averaging 5.8 a carry.

Last week, Davis was called to explain how he passed on his own college player. His response focused on the big-back phenomenon in the AFC North, where Lewis, Tennessee's Eddie George and Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis are all power runners.

"You were looking for somebody where size was something at that time that might be more durable over the long run of a running back's career," Davis said. "I think it served Jerome well, it served Eddie George well and I'm sure it's probably going to do the same thing for Jamal Lewis. At the time, that was one of the factors."

At 5 feet 11 and 205 pounds, Portis may have had durability questions. But to watch him run is to see a unique talent. He has an incredible burst and seems to do better with more carries.

Given that the Browns (4-9) couldn't catch Lewis, who rushed for a league-record 295 yards earlier in the season, they may be in for a long day against Portis. Davis can only wonder what might have been in a season when he's cut his most productive receiver (Kevin Johnson) and has gone back and forth between Kelly Holcomb and Tim Couch (today's starter) at quarterback.

If Green is a bust, then running back might be another need position. And Davis probably won't find another Clinton Portis.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Impenetrable at home

If defense wins championships, no one should be surprised if the New England Patriots pull off another Super Bowl coup this season. Their defensive numbers are remarkable, especially considering the injuries they've had to overcome. So far, they have used 20 different defensive starters, and only four players -- Bobby Hamilton, Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison and Tyrone Poole -- have started every game.

They are so dominant at Gillette Stadium that they haven't allowed a point at home in 10 quarters and haven't given up a home touchdown since Oct. 5, a stretch of 52 possessions.

One more testament: The Patriots have coerced six quarterbacks into their worst passer rating of the season -- Tennessee's Steve McNair, Miami's Jay Fiedler, Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb, Dallas' Quincy Carter, the New York Giants' Kerry Collins and the New York Jets' Vinny Testaverde.

Overtime option

During a visit to New Orleans last week, commissioner Paul Tagliabue floated a trial balloon for a new overtime format. This one would eliminate the kickoff to start the overtime period, thus removing the perceived advantage of winning the coin toss.

"The big issue is winning the toss, which is random," Tagliabue said. "The thinking is maybe we should play into the fifth period the way we played into the second and fourth period. Whoever has the ball at the end of the [fourth] period keeps the ball. That becomes an advantage in terms of where you are on the field. Take the kickoff out of the extra period and play to the conclusion. Some people think it's an ingenious idea."

Payback is sweet

The Kansas City Chiefs aren't apologizing for a schedule that turned out to be less demanding than it first seemed. They haven't faced a team that won more than eight games this season, and they've won all six of their games against 2002 playoff teams. But none of those teams -- Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Cleveland and Oakland -- would make the playoffs if the season ended today.

"They owed us," Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil said of the schedule-makers. "Two years in a row, we played one of the toughest schedules in football and nobody sent me any sympathy cards or flowers at Easter, either."

Butterfingers

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