Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis likely will miss about a month with a broken right hand, an injury that could end what has been a decidedly uneven season for him and his team.
Bubba Tyer, the Redskins' director of sports medicine, said Portis would undergo surgery as soon as today to repair the fourth metacarpal bone in his right hand, which is the bone that runs below the ring finger. Tyer said Portis would have screws inserted to stabilize the bone, but that the injury would be particularly difficult for Portis, because as a running back he must be comfortable gripping the football. Portis is right-handed.
After Washington's 27-3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Portis was unavailable to comment, having already boarded the team bus, but the injury was not considered minor by the Redskins' medical staff.
"It could be as long as four weeks, three or four, something like that," Tyer said. "He needs to be able to use his hands and function and be secure what he does with the football."
With 3 minutes, 12 seconds remaining in the first quarter and the Redskins trailing 10-0, Portis ran around left end for nine yards and was brought down by safety Brian Dawkins. Portis landed awkwardly and when he jogged to the sideline, he seemed to favor his right side. Portis, who rushed six times for 25 yards, did not return.
The Redskins replaced him with Ladell Betts, who rushed 20 times for 83 yards. Even power running back T.J. Duckett saw action, rushing twice for 16 yards. The Redskins rushed for 146 yards, averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
"They still ran the ball. They ran the ball with Portis and they ran the ball without him," Dawkins said. "I was actually surprised that they continued to run the ball as much as they did as the points started to mount up our way. It really surprised me, but they kept running the ball, so losing Portis didn't change what they wanted to do."
Should the Redskins make a late-season charge, Portis could be available, by Tyer's early estimate, for their final three games: Dec. 17 at New Orleans, Dec. 24 at St. Louis and Dec. 30 vs. the New York Giants.
But if the Redskins are eliminated from playoff contention by that time, playing Portis -- who is the team's most valuable offensive weapon but who has suffered through an injury-plagued season -- in meaningless games would be less likely.
The season has been a difficult one for Portis. Following last week's thrilling victory against Dallas, Portis expressed his frustrations with the new offensive system. Portis was on pace for career lows in rushing yards and average, but, because the offense emphasizes the talents of skill players such as slot receiver Antwaan Randle El, the Redskins' overall rushing average is comparable to last season's.
"We have Ladell Betts, leaders on this team who are more than capable," fullback Mike Sellers said. "You saw that T.J. can run the ball, too. We've got guys that are more than capable enough to run the ball. We're going to miss him, but we'll be all right."
Injuries have burdened Portis since training camp. He separated his left shoulder on the first series of the first preseason game Aug. 13 at Cincinnati when he tackled Bengals defensive back Keiwan Ratliff after an interception.
Portis said that injury likely would stay with him and that he "wouldn't be right all year."
The injuries to Portis are particularly significant because Portis is a physical player both in his running style and in pass protection. In addition to the shoulder, Portis had been fighting a sprained left ankle he suffered in a 36-22 loss at Indianapolis.
"I've pretty much been prepared for this all year," Betts said about taking over for Portis. "I've had more carries this year than any other year. That's the job I have to do."
Portis missed the remainder of the preseason but -- in a controversial decision that resulted in Coach Joe Gibbs being heavily criticized -- played in the season opener, a 19-16 home loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Portis did not play the following week at Dallas, but has played in each game since, to varying results.
"He's had a serious shoulder injury, and he's been playing with that shoulder that isn't as strong as he would like it to be," Tyer said.
"He's a smaller guy in a sense than some of the other guys, and he takes some licks. And he gives some licks. That's his style. He runs it up in there . . . but it's taken its toll."