BALTIMORE – In Saturday’s preseason game against Washington, Baltimore scored a touchdown on its fourth play from scrimmage.
Out trotted Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, named the starter 24 hours earlier and eager to stay atop the depth chart.
He threw an interception on the team’s fourth play from scrimmage.
Immediately, thoughts of 2014 came to mind, when Cousins was intercepted nine times in five starts, including four in a shellacking against the New York Giants. Two-and-a-half games (and four picks) later, Cousins had thrown away his initial shot to prove he’s NFL-starter material.
Now he might has another opportunity, an unexpected opening brought about by Robert Griffin III, who was declared unavailable 24 hours earlier, going from concussed to cleared and back to concussed.
While Washington and the NFL pointed fingers to escape blame for the debacle, Cousins set his sights on the starting quarterback job.
He mostly looked the part following the first drive against Baltimore and finished with 20 completions in 27 attempts for 190 yards and one touchdown. He sensed pressure. He got rid of the ball quickly and on time. He spread the wealth.
There was a lot like as he led two touchdown drives in Washington’s 31-13 comeback victory after Baltimore jumped to a 13-0 lead.
“We took it down in the two-minute drill, there were no sacks, we came away at halftime with the lead,” Cousins said after the game, ticking off what stood out to him. “I felt like the ball was distributed to several different players – running backs, receivers and tight ends – and I felt like we converted third downs. There’s lots of positives to take away certainly.”
That hasn’t been the case lately for Washington’s first-team offense, which scored its first preseason touchdown in the Jay Gruden Era. Then Colt McCoy came on in the second half, led three scoring drives and finished with a 139.2 passer rating.
Prior to the game, reports surfaced that 1), Gruden was given clearance to move away from RG3 as starter, and 2), general manager Scot McCloughan was ready to see that change. For a large segment of fans who would co-sign that move, Saturday felt like a huge weight was lifted off the team.
Gruden tried to keep it overhead, stating he’s not ready to announced the starter for Week 1 against Miami.
But he also didn’t say RG3 unequivocally would start if healthy, which represents a sea change from the January proclamation that Griffin was No. 1, period.
“I’ve always been told I have the final say on who plays quarterback and I don’t think that has changed,” Gruden said. “(McCloughan and owner Dan Snyder) and I are all going to talk about it, but we’re going to put the best 53 on the field who we think is going to win against Miami. There is no hidden agenda whatsoever.”
Gruden was stretching the boundaries of good faith and losing all credibility as coach by insisting that Griffin was the starter. The quarterback’s concussion gave him an out and there’s no way to go back without being seen as a total stooge for Snyder and president Bruce Allen, who presumably want to give RG3 more time due to the heavy investment they made.
“I’m not going to announce anything right now,” Gruden said.
“I haven’t been told that it’s an open competition,” Cousins said.
The announcement is coming and the non-existent competition is over. Or else Washington become an even bigger laughingstock, which hardly seems possible.
Handing Griffin a job he didn’t earn was a mistake. The worst thing Washington can do now is compound that error by ignoring evidence that’s plain to see: He’s not ready.
Going into the season with RG3 as the starter would be a disservice to the other 52 players on the roster.
“I’m pleased with the way Colt and Kirk have played,” Gruden said (make what you will of the order he used). “I’ve felt all along that we have three NFL-caliber quarterbacks on our team.”
Fans will be thrilled if there’s one.
No one knows for sure if there is.
But it’s clear that the most-prized pupil has no business starting in two weeks. Concussion or not.