So what are we to make of Kirk Cousins after four games this season? He’s completed 68.6 percent of his passes (105 of 153) for 1,005 yards, with four touchdown passes, four interceptions and a quarterback rating is 84.5. Those are very good numbers.
But Coach Jay Gruden didn’t want to see only impressive stats when he elevated Cousins to the starting role before the season-opener. He also hoped that the fourth-year man would show steady progress toward becoming a solid NFL quarterback, and a quarter of the way into the 2015 season, it’s clear that Cousins' command of the game has improved markedly.
Nothing exemplifies that more than his leadership on the brilliant 15-play, 90-yard touchdown march that beat the Eagles, 23-20, on Sunday at FedExField. Simply put, Cousins was “cool as ice water on that drive,” offensive tackle Trent Williams told me.
Indeed, Cousins looked super-composed on the drive, which began with 6:10 remaining and consumed more than five and half minutes, leaving the Eagles with just seconds to mount a tying drive. He completed 6 of 10 passes as the Redskins used a nice combination of runs and passes to methodically move downfield. He converted two manageable third downs through the air, the second being his 14-yard pass to Pierre Garcon that produced a first down on the Eagles’ 16. He hit Garcon for 12 yards on the next play and two plays later on 2nd and goal from the 4 found No. 88 again for the touchdown.
On the winning score, Cousins threw a dart to Garcon as he broke to the outside along the goal line, caught the ball in between two birds and held on despite taking a hard hit.
“Kirk made a beautiful pass,” Williams said. “He showed nerves of steel, never wavered. He made the plays he had to make, the throws he had to make.”
Rookie receiver Jamison Crowder, who produced career-highs with seven catches for 62 yards, said Cousins was “calm and kept everybody else calm” on the game-winning drive.
Cousins completed a career-high 31 passes in 46 attempts for 290 yards with one touchdown and most importantly no interceptions against Philly. His 31 completions were the most by a Redskins quarterback in a single game against Philadelphia in the 161-game history of the Redskins-Eagles rivalry. He spoke earlier in the season about the process he and his teammates have been undergoing to “learn what it takes to win.” After the win over the Eagles, he expounded again on his maturation as an NFL quarterback.
“I know that final drive I wasn’t capable of doing when I came into the league as a rookie,” he said. “It takes time. It takes failures. It takes learning from experiences and a combination of … I guess it would be three-plus seasons worth of work got me to the point where I was able to make the necessary plays on that drive. It’s a process, and I’m just going to keep working and keep learning from these experiences and keep getting better.”
Beating the Eagles was significant because the Redskins are now 2-2 with an injection of self-confidence, instead of 1-3 and eyeing a dire situation against a 4-0 Falcons squad next Sunday in Atlanta.
Less than two weeks ago, questions were surfacing about how long Cousins would last as the starter before being yanked, and if Robert Griffin III would be given another shot under center or if Colt McCoy would take the reins. Cousins had just turned in an embarrassing performance in a 32-21 Thursday night loss to the Giants, when he looked lost until some window-dressing late in the game, throwing two interceptions and seriously under-throwing tight end Jordan Reed twice on potential touchdowns. The quarterback ignominiously dubbed an “interception machine” lived up to that tag during the loss in the Meadowlands.
But I said it then and will continue to say it: Kirk Cousins should remain the Redskins’ starter for the rest of the season, barring injury, in order to give the coaches an honest feel for whether he’s the team's quarterback of the future. Of the three QBs on the roster, he provides the Redskins the best chance to win now and has the greatest upside. Sure, he’s going to turn in regrettable performances at times, and we must all be prepared for that. But patience is a must and making any short-term knee-jerk decisions is in nobody’s best interest. Plus, it’s too soon to tell if the Redskins should consider picking one of the marquee quarterbacks early in next year’s draft.
Cousins believes that he’s gradually absorbing Gruden’s system.
“I think the system has allowed quarterbacks to be successful, but I know from where I see it’s taken time,” Cousins said. “It’s taken time for me to learn, for me to fail, for me to make a mistake in practice or in a game and say, `Okay, if I choose to do that this is the result.’ Last week, I felt like I missed a touchdown pass because I didn’t adjust the protection. This week, I did adjust the protection and got the touchdown.”
Gruden is pleased with what he sees in No. 8.
“He’s putting us in position to win in the fourth quarter, and we finally did that,” the second-year coach said. “Making a key drive at the end to win it, it’s great to see our quarterback and our entire team do that because we’re going to have other games that are going to be close like this.”