The Washington Redskins have options -- and an opportunity.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins may have saved the Redskins' late playoff push by beating the Cleveland Browns 38-21 on Sunday in his first NFL start. Indeed, the Redskins (8-6) suddenly find themselves in the NFC East lead after the New York Giants lost to Atlanta 34-0.
It was a chippy game, one filled with bruising play and counterpunch after counterpunch until Washington pulled away in the fourth quarter. It featured the kind of playoff-like intensity in which teams prove their mettle, and Cousins certainly showed his.
Cousins' success filling in for injured Robert Griffin III wasn't all that surprising. As much as he downplayed his overtime win in relief over Baltimore on Dec. 9 -- he said he merely completed both of his passes -- Cousins' preparation has long been apparent.
Indeed, the fourth-round pick's confidence and ability to concentrate have been obvious since training camp. He was ready for this chance.
The Redskins' decision to bring in a second rookie to learn alongside Griffin worked perfectly. Cousins is not only a quick learner like Griffin, he's also humble enough to accept a backup role and still work like a starter. The two used to split burritos during late night study sessions when they roomed together. It's a good partnership. With Griffin injured, Cousins was the perfect replacement.
Cousins' 104.4 passer rating from Sunday looks awfully familiar. That's because Griffin's 104.2 led the NFL entering Sunday. Two rookie passers with 100-plus ratings? Suddenly, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan looks like a genius just weeks after he was being second-guessed during a 3-6 start.
Cousins needed four series and an interception that led to a 7-0 deficit to get going. He found receiver Leonard Hankerson in triple coverage for a 54-yard touchdown, and bam -- the offense started clicking.
The Redskins loosened up, running back Alfred Morris began banging away to his eventual 87?yards and two touchdowns and Cousins worked the field with confidence. He finished 26-for-37 for 329 yards and two touchdowns, later finding Hankerson again to give Washington a 24-14 lead.
Certainly, coach Mike Shanahan deserves some credit -- and maybe induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame should the Redskins reach the playoffs -- for risking the winning streak by making Griffin inactive. The quarterback wanted to play after spraining his right lateral collateral ligament against Baltimore.
"Players play. I was not happy with the decision," Griffin said. "I respect [Shanahan's decision], but I don't necessarily have to like it. I feel like I can play this week, next week, week after that, but it's not my decision. I understand what their viewpoint was, but all players know we're brought here to perform."
Griffin will perform again, perhaps as soon as Sunday at Philadelphia. Cousins will await another chance knowing he's worthy of starting somewhere.
The Redskins eventually may trade Cousins to recoup some of the picks lost in the Griffin deal last spring. But for now, Washington knows its has two options at quarterback -- and one big chance to reach the playoffs.