For their own sake, NFL players must tune out incessant chatter to the best of their ability.
The non-stop chirping from fans, columnists, radio show hosts and TV analysts could become a full-time obsession if players aren’t careful. But turning deaf ears doesn’t stop the noise, and there was plenty surrounding Washington’s NFL team during the preseason.
Especially regarding the quarterback position.
In case you missed it, there were rumblings that the backup might be better than the starter. Former great Joe Theismann and ESPN’s Herm Edwards intimated as much. So did unnamed sources on the New England Patriots and assorted media types around the country. A segment of Washington fans wondered the same thing, except they’re not as vocal about it.
But these things usually have a way of working out. So everybody who wanted Kirk Cousins now gets Kirk Cousins, at least for the foreseeable future.
Washington’s backup-turned-starter didn’t disappoint his fans Sunday when he replaced Robert Griffin III on the team’s ninth play from scrimmage. Cousins’ first pass attempt went for a touchdown and Washington never looked back in a 41-10 rout against Jacksonville at FedEx Field.
Early reports on RG3’s left ankle suggest it might be a while before we see him under center again. Just like that, Cousins has a long-term starting assignment, though no one wanted it to happen this way.
But if every defense plays as well as Jacksonville, the Hall of Fame is in Cousins’ future and RG3 will have to resurrect his career elsewhere.
Cousins wants no part of such talk.
“This is Robert’s team,” he said after completing 22 of 32 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns. “My job is to be the backup quarterback. If called upon to come in and play, I better play and help this team win. That job doesn’t change.”
The job hasn’t changed but the terms are totally different.
Washington is Cousins’ team until further notice. He’ll get the first-team reps in practice. He’ll develop his own rapport with the starting wideouts. Zone-read plays will be erased from the playbook. The offensive line will settle into providing protection for a pocket passer.
The biggest difference will be mental, for Cousins, his teammates and the coaching staff. It’s a shame that RG3 is injured again, but the team is 1-1 and looking to build momentum off its 449-yard effort. Cousins completed his first 12 pass attempts and his completion percentage (.687) would’ve been even higher if not for a few catchable balls that weren’t caught.
“Kirk played as expected,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “We knew he could throw the ball. It’s no surprise. Obviously you don’t want to see anybody get hurt, but we have a second-string quarterback who can start for a lot of NFL teams. There’s no drop-off.”
For all we know, RG3 could’ve been just as successful against the Jaguars’ “defense.” He was off to a great start, completing two of three passes, rushing twice for 22 yards and successfully executing a perfect hook slide.
“Yeah, I think we were going to have a great day if I was able to stay out there the entire time,” he said.
But staying on the field is just another challenge for RG3, like becoming comfortable in the pocket, protecting himself from unnecessary hits, knowing when to give up on plays and strengthening his mechanics.
Cousins’ main challenge thus far has been staying ready in case of emergency and learning to bide his time.
“That’s the question I’ve had to ask myself coming out of college: ‘How am I going to get ready for an NFL game if I’m not going to be able to practice with the starters during the week?’” he said.
The answer has been staying late to look at the practice reps, watch film, work with backup receivers, study the game plan, critique his fundamentals and go over play after play after play.
That’s the life of a backup quarterback, who must make the most of every opportunity to impress teams that might be interested in giving him a chance to start. Cousins knows that every appearance is a de facto audition, but he also knows his team is counting on him to help secure victories.
“Kirk is a special guy,” coach Jay Gruden said. “He has a skill set that I feel is very much suited for what we do. He can handle it mentally and, obviously, physically. He can make every throw in the book and we are going to move forward with Kirk.”
For those who asked for it, you got it.
And so begins the next round of chatter.