The roots of the University of Miami playing tree - dubbed "The U" by those fortunate enough to have been Hurricanes - extend far and wide, and the Ravens and Washington Redskins, who meet Sunday night at M&T; Bank Stadium, are just as fertile as other teams.
But as much as Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed and Redskins running back Clinton Portis can bask in their college association, those good vibes won't mean much as Lewis, Reed and the NFL's third-ranked run defense trying to put the clamps on the league's second-leading rusher in Portis.
"I haven't even thought about that," said Reed, who played on the 2001 Miami national championship team with Portis. "I love playing against our guys, but that's it."
Portis was similarly neutral about meeting his friends again.
"We've got to go out and find a way to win," Portis said as a guest on The John Thompson Show on 980 AM on Tuesday. "It's not about being caught up in the Beltway Brawl or 'Oh, we're playing the Ravens, and they've got Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.' We've got people, too. We've got to find a way to go out and play."
Whether Portis will help the Redskins achieve that goal is unclear. Portis did not practice yesterday, and his status is expected to be a question mark all week.
He is dealing with a left knee he sprained in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 3, an oblique he pulled in a win over the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 23, and a sore neck he jammed in a loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.
Redskins coach Jim Zorn sounded noncommittal about whether Portis or backup Ladell Betts would be the starting tailback Sunday night.
"Clinton's got a real sore neck," Zorn said during a conference call yesterday. "He took a shot in the game, and the back of his neck is real sore. His knee is not great. He's beat up a little bit. I can tell you that."
If Washington - which opened the season 6-2 before losing three of the past four - harbors any hope of earning a wild-card berth in the NFC playoff race, the team will need a healthy and effective Portis.
Despite gaining just 22 yards in the 23-7 loss to the Giants, Portis ranks second in the NFL with 1,228 rushing yards, behind only the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson (1,311 yards). Portis leads the league in yards from scrimmage (1,415), total first downs (70) and rushing first downs (61).
But in three of the Redskins' five losses, Portis carried fewer than 16 times in each contest. He has not eclipsed the 85-yard plateau in four of the team's defeats.
"In our losses, we haven't run the ball a lot, and we haven't been a balanced team," Portis said Tuesday. "When we were winning, we were a balanced team. Right now, we're really not balanced. We're not doing a lot on offense, and we're putting ourselves in position to where we can't run the ball or we can't stick with the run or we don't stick with the run."
While some might interpret Portis' comments as bordering on selfishness, Lewis said Portis hungers to help his team win.
"Maybe I'm a little biased," Lewis said. "He's from The U, so he has a big heart. He plays the game the way the game should be played. He's probably one of the exceptional backs in the game right now."
Making offenses become one-dimensional is the weekly objective of a Ravens defense that has surrendered the fewest rushing first downs (37) and the second-fewest rushing touchdowns (three). But the Ravens were battered by the Giants, who churned out 207 yards on the ground and featured Brandon Jacobs (73 yards and two touchdowns in the first half) and Ahmad Bradshaw (96 yards on nine carries) in a 30-10 win Nov. 16.
"Our first and foremost thing is to stop the run," defensive tackle Justin Bannan said. "We've done that pretty consistently the whole year except for one game. We've got to come out and play our game and focus on our technique and our fundamentals and let the chips fall where they may after that."
Despite the Ravens' reputation for taking opposing running backs out of the game via injury (see the Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall) or futility (see the Cincinnati Bengals' Corey Dillon), Portis said the Redskins should stick with their game plan of running the ball.
"I think running [the football] is a mind-set," Portis said. "When you're getting ready to run the ball, it boils down to toughness. You've got the position, you've got the attitude, you've got the idea that it's man-up time."
Baltimore Sun reporter Ken Murray contributed to this article.
REDSKINS (7-5) @ RAVENS (8-4)
Sunday, 8:15 p.m TV: Chs. 11, 4 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens by 5