The rebuilding plan for the Washington Redskins is right on schedule. A review of their 47-14 dismantling of the Saints on Sunday validates that point.
The Redskins, who improved to 4-5, played four quality quarters, with important contributions from offense, defense and special teams. After the Saints tied the game at 14 early in the second quarter, the Redskins gradually built a lead and kept their foot on the gas pedal, dropping the reeling Saints to 4-6. That’s what good teams do.
“We said we wanted to play a full game,” rookie guard Brandon Scherff said in a giddy post-game locker room. “We’ve played some games for only one half. Had a lot of fun out there.”
They had fun while their three NFC East foes lost, leaving the division like a traffic jam: Giants (5-5), Redskins (4-5), Eagles (4-5). Can the Redskins win the division? Anything is possible in the mediocre NFC East.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has faced so much scrutiny of his ability to be a quality starter in the NFL, played the game of his life against a weak Saints defense. He posted a perfect 158.3 passer rating after completing 20 of 25 for 324 yards with no interceptions and a career-high four touchdowns. It was the first perfect passer rating in the league this season with a minimum of 20 attempts.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Cousins also became the first Redskins quarterback and the 13th in NFL history to do all of these in the same game:
--- Complete 80 percent of his passes
--- Pass for 300 or more yards
--- Throw at least four touchdowns
--- Throw no interceptions
Cousins, who is likely to be named NFC Offensive Player of the Week, crafted his flawless performance with four legendary Redskin quarterbacks in the house in Sonny Jurgensen, Billy Kilmer, Joe Theismann and Doug Williams. I’m sure they were impressed.
“He was obviously very good,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “You have a perfect passer rating, you’re going to be pretty good. But really the people around him. I think the offensive line did a good job. I think players took some short passes, turned them into big plays for him. He delivered the ball with great efficiency, with great decision making, and the results were outstanding, obviously.”
Cousins wasn’t alone. The running game returned to its dominant form from the first two weeks of the season. After averaging only 2.2 yards per carry over the past four games, the Redskins rushed for 213 yards with a whopping 6.9 average. Alfred Morris, Matt Jones and Chris Thompson rushed for 92, 56 and 54 yards, respectively. Jones also turned a screen pass into a 78-yard touchdown, showing his versatility to find open space and speed to outrace defenders. He’s a keeper.
Overall, the offense amassed 514 yards, as the Redskins eclipsed the 500-yard mark for the first time since a 37-34 loss to the Eagles in the third week last season.
The defense, for its part, shut down one of the most explosive offenses in the league. In addition to holding New Orleans scoreless for nearly three quarters, the Redskins put a stranglehold on future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. After throwing a 60-yard scoring pass that tied the game at 14, Brees struggled the rest of the way and threw two interceptions. Safety Dashon Goldson caught one of them on a deflection and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown for a 44-14 fourth-quarter lead. The defense also stopped the Saints on a 4th and 1 on the Redskins’ 31 early in the fourth quarter.
The 33-point margin of victory was the Redskins’ largest since beating the 49ers 35, 52-17, in 2005. After the game, Gruden and his troops echoed the feeling that the team had an excellent week of practice after looking lifeless in their 27-10 loss to the Patriots.
“We practiced with great energy, great focus, and it carried over to the game,” Gruden said. “So it was great to see those guys all step up – offense, defense. Defense against a heck of a quarterback, heck of an offensive scheme over there. Of course, special teams played well, also.”
Back to Cousins. The fourth-year quarterback will be a free agent after this year. Should the Redskins re-sign him? I’m waiting until the end of this season before saying one way or another, but he made a powerful case against the Saints for being retaining.
Remember when No. 8 would throw interceptions that resulted from maddening decisions that would make your eyes roll? Get this: He hasn’t thrown an interception that was clearly his fault in more than 13 quarters. The one he tossed against the Patriots was a perfect strike that bounced off of Pierre Garcon. Clearly, the NFL game has slowed down for Cousins, who has become much more patient in the pocket and more astute at reading defenses.
“I can see the confidence growing in Kirk each week,” said tight end Jordan Reed, who caught two touchdown passes against the Saints. “He’s a great player.”
Cousins delivered in a must-win game. A loss would have meant the 2015 season was essentially over, with the 3-6 Redskins staring at 3-7 with one of the league’s best teams, Carolina, on the slate next week. A loss would have also triggered conversation about the status of Gruden, who in his second season must improve on last season’s four-win total by two or three games.
I keep stressing to those impatient that it’s going to take at least three more seasons for general manager Scot McLoughan and company to round the Redskins into a team consistently able to make a deep push in the playoffs. Just let him work his magic in acquiring talent like he did in Seattle and San Francisco, and good things are bound to happen.