Ladell Betts took the money and ran, but not in the negative cliche version of the phrase.
Two days after passing up the opportunity to test the free agent market by signing a five-year, $11 million contract extension with the Redskins, Betts topped his career numbers from the previous week. After rushing 28 times for 155 yards against Atlanta on Dec. 3, Betts pounded Philadelphia for 171 yards on 33 carries in a 21-19 loss Sunday. The consecutive 150-yard performances were a first by a Redskin.
Betts has averaged 137 yards since becoming the No. 1 back when Clinton Portis went down for the season on Nov. 12 in Philadelphia. Betts needs just 186 yards over the final three games (a 62-yard average) to join Portis, Stephen Davis, Terry Allen, Reggie Brooks, Earnest Byner, George Rogers, John Riggins, Mike Thomas and Larry Brown as the only Redskins to gain 1,000 yards. That would be quite an accomplishment for a guy who didn't start seven of the first nine games.
"We always said if we did our job up front, it doesn't matter who the running back is," center Casey Rabach said. "It's the same exact offense. Ladell has been given a golden opportunity to be the starter. He's taking advantage of it and showing what he has."
That should only continue since Washington's next two opponents, New Orleans (24th) and St. Louis (31st), are among the NFL's worst run defenses.
"All the things that I'm doing now are things I always knew I was capable of," said Betts, a second-round draft choice in 2002 who had started just two games before this season. "It was just a matter of working hard, staying focused and being ready when the opportunity presented itself."
Betts' decision to re-up with the Redskins before even exploring his value on the open market was surprising since three-time 1,500-yard runner Portis remains Washington's No. 1 back. But Betts said it wasn't that difficult a choice.
"Everybody wants to be the man at their particular position," Betts said. "It was something I had to weigh, my values and things I wanted to accomplish in this league, security, being comfortable where I'm at. At the end of the day, this was the decision I came up with. As the year went along, it became more evident that we do need two tailbacks. Most teams have more than one tailback to carry the load, so talks grew more and more. The Redskins stepped to the plate and gave me an offer where I felt comfortable coming back. My understanding is that my role will be large going forward."
While Betts had just 99 touches to Portis' 382 when Portis set the franchise-record with 1,516 rushing yards last season, their ratio was a more balanced 144-72 in the seven full games they played together this season.
"Ladell and Clinton have been an excellent tandem," coach Joe Gibbs said. "Ladell knows how important he is to us, how he fits in and what his role in. He likes being here. I thought it was really good for us. I really appreciate the fact that he didn't (test the market)."