EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The weekly referendum began with Kirk Cousins leading Washington to a field goal. And then another three points on the ensuing possession and another don’t-come-away-empty drive on the third series.
It ended with Cousins throwing two incompletions (drawing a roughing-the-passer penalty on one) and handing off to Matt Jones eight times for … you guessed it … yet another successful Dustin Hopkins kick to give the Skins a 29-27 victory in a wild and wacky affair against the New York Giants.
If this game proved anything besides the fact that Washington is a gritty, resilient team, it demonstrated that everything indeed doesn’t revolve around No. 8, despite appearances and airwaves.
Yes, quarterbacks receive too much credit and too much blame. But Cousins takes that equation to new, unbalanced extremes, receiving little acknowledgment for victories and the brunt of criticism for defeats. It’s like he can’t win even when the team does, which hadn’t happened in two outings entering Sunday’s contest.
Cousins did his part against the Giants – throwing for 296 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He completed 60 percent of his passes and finished with a 106.4 rating compared to his Super Bowl-winning counterpart Eli Manning (82.1).
True, the Skins were 0-for-4 in red zone efficiency and Cousins left points and yards on the table with several errant throws, But he put the Skins in position to salvage a desperately-needed win in their personal shop of horrors.
However, the list of significant contributors is lengthy and full of unexpected names.
There were defensive backs such as Quinton Dunbar and Will Blackmon stepping in for injured starters Bashaud Breeland and DeAngelo Hall. There were offensive linemen Spencer Long and tackle Ty Nsekhe filling the gap when starters Shawn Lauvao and Kory Lichtensteiger were lost for the game, injuries that led to All-Pro tackle Trent Williams moving inside to play guard.
“There are so many different calls (for guards),” Williams said. “And I didn’t know any of them.”
The best call of the day was “field goal team!” Hopkins’ number was called five times and converted each time. But he wasn’t even he only special-teamer worthy of a game ball.
Punter Tress Way completed a 31-yard pass to Dunbar on a fake punt, keeping alive a drive that saw Washington recapture the lead, 26-24 early in the fourth quarter. And Jamison Crowder’s electrifying 50-yard punt return set up another field goal to keep the game close midway through the second quarter.
What does all of that have to do with Cousins?
Not a dang thing.
But those who prefer can make the entire season about $20-million Cousins. They can dissect the brian farts like when he took a sack at the Giants’ 4-yard line as the first half expired instead of throwing away the ball for a near-certain field goal. They can bemoan the underthrows, overthrows, late throws and behind-him throws as targets are running open. They can lament the checkdowns, lock-ins and forced passes that always seem to come at the most inopportune times.
Detractors are quick to point out those flaw, conveniently overlooking the occasions when Cousins triggers dynamic plays in an offense with capable playmakers and creative schemes to exploit them.
There was the two-play, 75 yard drive that consisted of Cousins-to-Desean Jackson for 31 and then 44 yards. There was the quick strike to Crowder on a receiver screen that went for a 55-yard touchdown. There was taking care of the ball; dating to last season when Cousins took over as starter, Washington is now 9-3 (including the playoffs) when he doesn’t throw an interception.
The quarterback was such a side issue in the grand scheme of things Sunday, coach Jay Gruden wasn’t asked a single question about his quarterback (perhaps a first since 2012), unless you count the query about failures to cross the goal line. Washington entered the game converting just 30 percent of red-zone trips into touchdowns, ranked 28th in the league.
“We just have to keep working on it, really, that’s all I can say,” Gruden said. “I know that Kirk is doing the best he can. (Offensive coordinator Sean McVay) and myself are doing the best we can at getting the good plays. And the guys are doing the best they can to execute them. But we do have to do better in that area.”
That’s something that everyone can agree on – Washington has to do better.
The chorus is deafening when focused on the quarterback, even when the team wins but especially when it loses. Cousins is the first to agree.
“We need to be better,” he said, speaking individually and collectively about the team’s struggle to score touchdowns. “I don’t have an answer necessarily. It’ll be something we’ll keep working on.”
The referendum continues.
At least there’s a “W” to get us through the week.