LANDOVER, Md. – With two minutes and 24 seconds remaining, 80 yards from the end zone and needing a touchdown to win, Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins was calm as he stepped into the huddle. He had been in this position at FedEx Field three weeks earlier – although with much more time on the clock before – when he led the game-winning drive against Philadelphia.
But history wasn’t on his side, not recently or overall. Washington hadn’t won since the comeback against Eagles, with Cousins’ propensity to throw picks playing a role. And the franchise had never overcome a 24-point deficit, which it faced midway through the second-quarter.
None of that fazed Cousins. Not Sunday’s first half against Tampa Bay. Not the two weeks of ridicule he faced locally and national ridicule. Not the team’s turmoil and voices calling for his benching.
The only that mattered getting down the field and across the goal line. And that’s what he did, triggering an 11-play drive that ended with a 6-yard TD pass to Jordan Reed for an improbable 31-30 victory.
“If there’s a sense of panic in the huddle we’re in trouble, Cousins said of the decisive drive. “So I hope there calm and confidence at all times.”
Maybe on the field, but everyone everywhere else is a long way from feeling assured.
Cousins had thrown a pair of interceptions in two consecutive games and there was a nagging fear he had one in him on Sunday. On the play before Reed’s winning grab with 24 seconds left, Cousins’ pass bounced off a defender’s hands. We don’t want to consider the castigation that would follow an interception in the end zone.
But just as in losses, you can’t point to bad plays in a victory and say would’ve, could’ve, should’ve. The fact is Cousins completed 9-of-11 passes to drive the length of the field win after Washington trailed 24-0. And despite the talk all season long that the team can’t win with this quarterback chucking it all over the field, Cousins finished 33-of-40 for 317 yards, three TDs and no interceptions.
His rating (124.7) was the second-highest of his career, topped only by a game against Baltimore in which he was 2-for-2.
The question is can he do it consistenly. Through the first seven games this season, Cousins’ stat line had read two picks, zero picks, two picks, zero picks, two picks, two picks and now zero again, which spells “career backup.”
Game-winning drives against 2-4 teams that inexplicably defend the middle instead of the sideline during two-minute drills are great, but New England is next on the schedule and …
“There’s going to be pressure on him every week,” said coach Jay Gruden, who can say the same thing about himself. “How he responds is what’s going to make him. He’s going to have his ups and downs as a professional quarterback in the National Football League. Everyone does.”
The downs are so depressing, exasperating and demoralizing, like his sack-fumble turnover that was returned 43 yards for the 24-0 lead. But the ups are such a tease, so exhilarating and tantalizing. Even while the offense was laying a collective egg in the first half, netting 123 yards, Cousins was showing the promise that seems so fleeting.
On a day in which the running game was nonexistent, he recorded his first rushing touchdown of the season, getting Washington on the board just before halftime. He led scoring drives on five of last six possessions (not counting the victory-formation kneel down). He gave hope to his believers while keeping his detractors at bay for at least another game.
Some of those detractors were among the 74,000 in attendance, who voiced their opinion with a spattering of boos as the team went in for intermission. “You certainly don’t want to here them,” Cousins said. “But they pay for their ticket and can do what they want.
“I heard cheers at the end and that’s all that matters.”
Washington flipped the script for once. All season long it had flopped in the second half after being fairly stout in the first half. We’re still waiting for a solid four quarters of football. And we’re still waiting for back-to-back good games from the quarterback.
“It’s not like all of our problems are solved and we have everything figured out,” he said. “At the same time, when I throw two interceptions and we lose, I’m not going to freak out and hit the panic buttion. If I start to do that, I won’t last in this leaue very long.”
On the contrary, he can have a very long career in the NFL. There are 32 clipboards and one could have his name on it. But if he going to prove himself as a bonafide starter, it helps to have a couple of game-winning drives on the resume.
We know he can be be rushed and rattled and reckless. On Sunday, however, he was cool and calm and collected.
It’s still a mystery as to which portrait ultimately emerges as the most dominant.