September 28, 2010
Did he or didn't he? And if he did, why?
Those are the biggest questions this week in Washington following a bizarre play during the first quarter of the Redskins-Rams game in which Clinton Portis(notes) seemingly took a soccer-style dive to avoid contact after a 27-yard first-quarter run.
On his second carry of the game, the veteran running back broke through the Rams line and cut upfield for what would become his biggest gain of the season. Just as defenders were converging on him to make a tackle, Portis slid to the ground, avoiding contact:
At first there was some question about whether Portis slipped or went down intentionally, but I think it's pretty clear that it's the latter. The turf in St. Louis isn't the easiest to grip, but there's no hitch in Portis' step when he falls and he never tries to regain his footing. He falls in one clear motion.
So if we accept that he fell on purpose, why?
In his Monday news conference, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said Portis fell because of a hand injury. "His right hand was bothering him," Shanahan said. "He felt like he didn't have the ball secured, he couldn't secure it very well, and he was afraid he was going to have contact on that side. I asked him the same question and that's what he shared with me."
If you believe that coach-speak, Bill Belichick's injury report has a bridge to sell you. Portis was worried about contact, sure, but not necessarily for the reason Shanahan says. Portis fell because he didn't want to get hit.
And you know what? I don't see a huge problem with it.
Obviously you want your player to get as many yards as possible. You want a back to move a pile forward after first contact like the Packers bruising backs and tight ends did against the Bears on Monday night. But at what cost?
Portis has carried the ball over 2,000 times in his career and has thrown bruising blocks a few hundred times more. He's 29 years old, an eternity in running-back years. Those hits and blocks and bruises add up. What's the problem with him preventing another hit that he'll be feeling for four days? Quarterbacks avoid contact all the time and Ron Jaworski will talk your ear off telling you how smart they are for doing so effectively.
[Redskins rerun: Loss to Rams evokes '09 memories]
If Portis was 24, this would be a different story. If he could have gained 15 more yards or made it to the end zone or had a long history of dodging contact (TERRELL OWENS(notes)), we wouldn't be having this conversation. Given all the circumstances though, this is hardly the most egregious thing we saw on a football field this week.
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