The Kirk Cousins Experiment, which took off with so much hope and promise, crashed and burned Sunday afternoon.
It’s too early to tell the full extent of damage that Cousins suffered, but he undoubtedly limps away with a scarred psyche and bruised ego at minimum.
Instead of stating his case to be Washington’s starting quarterback after Robert Griffin III returns, Cousins has sputtered and backfired.
On Sunday, he faltered to the point that Colt McCoy – Washington’s third-stringer who failed to fill Cleveland’s long-running black under center – was inserted at halftime and engineered a 19-17 victory against the visiting Tennessee Titans.
We still refer to Cousins as a “young” quarterback, because he’s in his third season and has yet to reach double-figures in starts. But NFL types don’t need much time before designating players as starter-material or career backup.
Cousins has made their decision easy since taking over for RG3 in Week 2, entering Sunday’s game with eight interceptions in five contests. Two picks in the first half sent him to the bench after intermission.
If his confidence is shaken, that’s something he’ll have to deal with, because it unlikely that the league’s talent evaluators care.
“You can’t think of him as young guy,” Washington personnel executive Doug Williams said in the postgame locker room. “This is not his first rodeo. It’s based on performance now. You can’t have all those turnovers.
“I don’t care if you’re Tom Brady,” Williams said. “Any quarterback in the league is going to get pulled off a performance like that.”
His turnovers were back-breaking. The first, initially announced in the press box as a “fumble intercepted in the air,” occurred as he passed under heavy pressure deep in Washington’s territory. He was hit as his arm came forward and the ball flew into the gut of Titans linebacker Avery Williamson. Fortunately, the defense held and yielded just a field goal.
The second interception, immediately following an interception by Washington cornerback Bashaud Breeland, wasn’t a fluke at all. Cousins gave the ball right back by throwing it directly at Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who merely had to jump just a little.
The Titans took over inside Washington’s 40-yard line and turned that takeaway into a touchdown for a 10-3 lead.
Cousins tried to explain his proclivity for picks and conceded that it might be mental.
“I don’t know if some of it is I’m so conscious of not throwing an interception that it causes you to throw one. I really don’t know.”
The problem is, Cousins is the only person who can answer the question. At times, he makes some of the most beautiful plays you can imagine, like the 50-yarder to Niles Paul as Cousins bootlegged with a defender in his face.
At others times, he puts the ball where only defenders can catch it.
McCoy knows something about failure, rejection and the struggle to maintain confidence in yourself when everyone else is losing theirs in you. He started 21 games for Cleveland from 2010 to 2011 but hasn’t started another one since. He said Cousins might pressing with opportunity staring him in the face
McCoy acknowledged that tree’s no way to know for sure that Cousins can bounce back from the adverse position he has created.
“When you throw a pick, that messes with your head,” said McCoy, whose five-yard pass to Pierre Garcon turned into a 70-yard touchdown. “It’s like a pitcher getting a home run hit off of him. How are you going to respond? It’s tough and a lot of guys handle it different ways.”
Cousins had handled it great – at the podium. He says all the right things, but they’re too often related to him doing the wrong thing.
“I have to learn from every game and move forward,” he said. “I have to try not to let the mistakes repeat themselves. It sounds like a broken record. I feel like I’m saying that every week.”
He won’t have to worry about that much longer because he’s probably headed back to the bench unless an injury forces him to return.
“In this league,” Cousins said, “you understand that if you don’t play well, being replaced is always a reality.”
The verdict in his first trial is in, delivered at halftime.
He can only hope to win on appeal – if he can get his case heard again.