ASHBURN, Va. - Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs hasn't forgotten about Clinton Portis.
So despite the star running back's six-carry, 17-yard showing in Sunday's 16-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Gibbs reiterated yesterday the team's appreciation of Portis and his value to the Redskins (3-8).
"I'd say Clinton Portis is one of the real pluses for this year," Gibbs said yesterday. "I hope that doesn't get lost in the fact that we're losing games. ... He's somebody we all have great respect for, and we're looking forward to a lot of years with him."
Portis won't bolt for free agency, because he signed an eight-year, $50.5 million contract after Washington acquired him from the Denver Broncos for cornerback Champ Bailey and a second-round pick in next April's draft. But questions have surfaced about his lack of involvement in an offense that ranks last in the NFL in scoring.
In the Redskins' eight losses, Portis is averaging a little more than 18 carries a game and hasn't cracked the 100-yard mark in any of those games.
In the team's three victories, the third-year running back is averaging 33 carries and has rushed for more than 100 yards in each game.
His last 100-yard rushing game was on Nov. 7 in Washington's 17-10 win against the Detroit Lions.
Portis, who scored 29 touchdowns in two seasons in Denver, has three total touchdowns this season, while wide receiver Rod Gardner has five and rookie tight end Chris Cooley has four.
Sunday's 17-yard effort was Portis' lowest total in his career since being named a starter for the Broncos on Oct. 6, 2002. He's still third among NFC running backs with 945 yards, but he's 1 yard behind Denver running back Reuben Droughns, who has 202 attempts compared to Portis' 244.
"I never had a day in Denver where I had 30 yards in a game," Portis said in a rare interview with several reporters after Sunday's game. "I think I've had seven or eight games like that this year. [But] I'm not in Denver anymore. I'm in Washington, and I've got to find a way to be a key player in this system the same way I was in that one."
Gibbs defended Portis' lack of involvement by pointing out that double-digit deficits in four of the team's past five games have forced the offense to call more passing than running plays (364-305).
"Certainly we'd love to have Clinton get his share of carries," said Gibbs, who is assured of his third non-winning season this year. "But the last two weeks, we've gone up against two very good defenses, and we've been behind. Looking back on it, would you like to run the ball more? Yeah. Did we think we could run the ball down the field against Pittsburgh? No."
NOTES: Sunday's 156 yards of total offense dropped the Redskins from 28th in the league to 30th, and the team still hasn't scored 20 points in a game. Said Gibbs: "I wouldn't have dreamed that. ... I take that personally. That's me. That's my responsibility." ... Gibbs said offensive right tackle Mark Wilson injured his knee Sunday and might not play against the New York Giants on Sunday at 4:15 p.m. at FedEx Field. If Wilson can't play, Gibbs said Lennie Friedman would start at right guard and Ray Brown would shift from right guard to right tackle. ... In other injury news, wide receiver Laveranues Coles should be able to play Sunday despite a bruised hip, said head trainer John Burrell. X-rays were negative on Coles' hip. Burrell also said defensive end Demetric Evans' sprained right ankle likely won't prevent him from playing Sunday. Defensive end Phillip Daniels has recovered from an aggravated groin injury and will practice this week, according to Burrell.