ASHBURN, Va. (AP) -Southeast Jerome has gone missing. Sheriff Gonna Getcha and Dolla Bill are nowhere to be found.
And, in crunch time of a tight game against a division rival, Clinton Portis was absent, too.
The costume-wearing running back who was fast becoming the new face of the Washington Redskins franchise during a playoff run two years ago - whose track record after four years in the NFL placed him among the elites - was deemed last week by the coaching staff to be ``interchangeable'' with his backup. He was not even worthy of being on the field when 1 yard was needed to push a game into overtime.
Portis was taking a knee while Ladell Betts failed in two attempts to score from the 1-yard line in the final minute of the 24-17 loss to the New York Giants. It's hard to imagine Shaun Alexander or LaDainian Tomlinson playing spectator in a similar circumstance.
Or, for that matter, any running back with a $50.5 million contract. Or any running back who has been considered to be of greater value than the best cornerback in the league - the case made by the Redskins when they acquired Portis from Denver for Champ Bailey and a draft pick two years ago.
So what was Portis' reaction? Was he thinking he should have been in the game? Will he be demanding the ball from now on?
Well, suffice it to say that the flamboyant Southeast Jerome - one of Portis' characters from 2005 - would be stunned at his alter ego's subdued answer.
``If Ladell scores that touchdown, then it's not a problem,'' Portis said. ``Being that we didn't score, now it's, `Oh, why wasn't Clinton in?' Who's to say I would have scored?''
So not only has Portis' role changed from two years ago, so has Portis the person - at least the side that he presents to the public. While teammates say he's still can be a jokester in private, Portis is more serious, more defensive and less likely to crack a joke when the cameras are running.
Portis said he has adopted a new tone because he grew tired of being criticized. When he wore the costumes, there were fans who said he was a distraction. When he was hurt last year, there were fans ready to replace him permanently with Betts. He was especially stung by the backlash over his lighthearted comments about dogfighting during the Michael Vick investigation earlier this year.
So now, as he's said many times already this season, the new mantra is: ``I need to take care of Clinton Portis and let other people take care of themselves.''
``People are never going to be satisfied,'' Portis said. ``From the Vick stuff or anything else, it's just giving people an opportunity. The less opportunities I give people, the less shots I give people to take at me, then the better I'll be. I understand the people not for me are going to be against me, so there's nothing to talk about. I'm going to let those people be against me. I'm going to continue to have a chip on my shoulder.
``It's just life, man. It changed.''
On the field, Portis is adjusting to sharing the rushing load with Betts. Although Portis has more carries this year (48 to Betts' 30), coach Joe Gibbs made it clear that he counts the two as equals.
``We think they're interchangeable,'' Gibbs said. ``We don't think that there's any play in our offense that we would worry about one player or the other one handling.''
So far, the results are mixed. The Redskins (2-1) have run the ball more times than any team except Pittsburgh and New England but rank only 16th with an average of 4.0 per carry.
A strong running game is necessary during young quarterback Jason Campbell's development, but Campbell himself has the longest run of the season (20 yards). Portis' numbers are OK but not great: 227 yards, a 4.7-yard average and three touchdowns.
Betts (82 yards, 2.7 average) didn't have a second-half carry last week until the two at the end of the game. He said the tag-team approach means he doesn't have ``the same type of rhythm'' he had when Portis was injured last year.
Portis, for his part, said he's simply buying into the system and that winning is paramount. Anyone expecting him to throw a tantrum at the way he's being used has so far been disappointed.
``I could sit there and say I want the ball every play,'' Portis said. ``It don't mean I'm going to get it. What I'm buying into is the team vibe.''
It was pointed out to Portis how much has changed - his role in the offense, his free-spirited attitude - since he led the Redskins to the playoffs two years ago.
``Don't worry,'' he replied. ``We're going to be all right. We're going to get to the playoffs with me being a team player.''

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