Portis happy to carry load

Redskins get lift from running back during playoff push


ASHBURN, Va. -- For almost a year, Clinton Portis has been preparing for this scenario: the stretch run of the NFL schedule and a renewed emphasis on the running game.

With a passing attack slowed by the lack of a consistent No. 2 wide receiver and a spate of recent turnovers by quarterback Mark Brunell, the burden on Portis to carry the Redskins' offense has become heavier.

The running back said he is ready.

"From the beginning of the season, I've prepared for this stretch," said Portis, who said he gained 20 pounds of muscle during the offseason to withstand the pounding of a 16-game schedule. "I'm healthy, and I'll do whatever is asked of me."

Portis, who has rushed for 1,184 yards and eight touchdowns, has shouldered the load for a Washington team (7-6) that is on a two-game winning streak and in contention for its first postseason berth since 1999.

In a 24-9 win over St. Louis 12 days ago, Portis carried the ball 27 times for 136 yards and had two touchdowns. Last Sunday, he gained 105 yards on 26 carries and scored another touchdown. He has accounted for three of the offense's four touchdowns in the two games.

The Redskins are 6-1 when the number of running plays either exceeds or equals the number of passing plays called and 1-5 when the situation is reversed. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the offensive linemen have been lobbying the coaching staff to put the ball in Portis' hands.

"We really want to run the ball," said center Casey Rabach, a former Raven. "It lets us be aggressive and lets us do what we can do with our size and stuff. Clinton's been running hard. ... He's got the mentality that he just wants to run over people even though he isn't the biggest back in the league. He's a lot of fun to watch."

Added right guard Randy Thomas: "He's a man on a mission. He's trying to carry this team. I appreciate him, and I think we should continue handing him the ball."

Washington, which has run the ball 74 times and thrown 50 passes in its past two games, has begun to rely on the run partly because of the absence of a receiver to complement Santana Moss. When David Patten was put on injured reserve after nine games, opposing defenses began to roll their coverages to double-team Moss, whose best game since then was six catches for 65 yards against San Diego on Nov. 27.

The loss of James Thrash to a pulled right hamstring exacerbated the problem, and the trio of Taylor Jacobs, Jimmy Farris and Antonio Brown has combined for seven receptions for 68 yards in the past three weeks.

Brunell's numbers have suffered, too, as he has not thrown for 200 yards in the past four games. Mistakes have become a concern as Brunell, who tossed just five interceptions in the first 12 games, was picked off three times by the Arizona Cardinals last week in the first half.

"It's a tipped ball, a bad decision on my part. It just happened," Brunell said. It's part of the position, and you don't want those things to happen, but sometimes they do."

Still, coach Joe Gibbs said the team would prefer a balanced attack. Thrash returned to practice this week and is expected to play Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, who were picked apart last week by Kansas City's Trent Green for 340 yards.

"I think for the last three weeks or so, we've tried to make sure that we give ourselves a chance to run, but we're trying to be balanced, too," Gibbs said. "We want to throw it. You're not going to win these games unless you're balanced."

But should Gibbs return to the power running style he adopted with John Riggins during his first tenure in Washington, Portis wants his coach to know that he's up to the task.

"It's the stretch run," Portis said. "Knowing that and knowing what we went through last year, it's made the offensive line determined to get me over the 100-yard mark every week."


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