By DERON SNYDER
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Two quarterbacks who might be elsewhere next season, leading two teams going nowhere this season, faced off on a bitterly cold day at MetLife Stadium.
That really was the only interesting aspect of Sunday’s game between Washington and the New York Giants.
Not whether the visitors would complete a three-game winning streak to finish at 8-8. Not whether the hosts would snap a five-game losing streak and produce a victory in front of new GM David Gettleman. Not whether the fans who showed up – including the (fool?)hardy souls tailgating in sub-zero wind-chill temperatures – would report cases of frostbite.
No, this was all about Eli Manning and Kirk Cousins, quarterbacks who are equal parts similar and dissimilar.
Manning came out on top as the Giants prevailed for an 18-10 victory that ended with kneel-downs from Washington’s 1-yard line. Cousins’ third interception moments earlier had ended thoughts of a comeback and – God forbid! – overtime.
Neither QB’s career highlight reel will include plays from this game. Cousins’ passer rating was 31.1. Manning’s was a whopping 48.5. Cousins had 158 yards and no touchdowns to go with his three picks. Manning threw for 132 yards with one touchdown and one pick.
Yet, during a timeout near the end, the remaining fans broke out into a chant. E-LI MAN-NING! Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap. E-LI MAN-NING! “I heard them,” Manning said afterward. “I appreciate all the fans.”
They showered their quarterback with love that Cousins might never enjoy in D.C., where ardent non-believers remain. If this indeed was Cousins’ final game in burgundy-and-gold, a segment of Washington’s fan base had two reasons to celebrate on New Year’s Eve.
Quiet as it’s kept, a portion of Giants fans are ready to move on from Manning, too, especially with New York holding the No. 2 draft pick. But they’re forever grateful for the two Super Bowl championships Manning produced in 14 otherwise ordinary seasons.
Unlike Cousins, Manning is a former first-round draft choice who has been an unquestioned starter throughout his career. But just like Cousins, plenty of critics claim that Manning wasn’t great, or even that good.
Sunday’s game was Exhibits A through Z for Cousins’ naysayers. His play was such that it might’ve been a diabolical plan, a sneaky attempt to convince Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen to go in another direction at QB.
I’m kidding. But this was as poorly as Cousins has played in quite some time. Two of the interceptions hit Giants linebacker Kelvin Sheppard between the numbers. One quarter of Cousins’ 20 completions were for 3 yards or fewer. He underthrew a potential touchdown to Josh Doctson and threw left as a wide-open Vernon Davis broke right.
Nevertheless, his body-of-work in three seasons as Washington’s starter is sufficient for many – including yours truly – to believe that locking him up should be a priority.
Forget about the finale in a 7-9 season. His proponents just want to know he’ll be back if the choice is his.
We’ll have to wait.
“The league’s set up in a way that we have plenty of time to make those decisions,” Cousins said. “I’m going to use all the time I can and be very thorough and diligent, but I need to catch my breath. We’ll have a conversation with fans Friday in Fairfax where I can communicate more in-depth about where my head is at, and kind of debrief from the season.”
Gettleman said he intends to have Manning return as the starter. Manning noted that what’s said in person matters more than words delivered through the media. Cousins knows that as well as anyone. His team says the right thing but hasn’t proven that it’s sold on the former fourth-round pick.
It sounds like coach Jay Gruden wishes management would make up its mind.
“We have to have stability at that position somehow, some way,” Gruden said. “Not everybody has it. If you got one, you would like to keep one. But you want to make that decision pretty soon or Kirk will also. It’s not totally up to us. He’s got to buy in also.”
Cousins wasn’t ready to discuss his place in “the big picture.” But he likes some of the pieces Washington uncovered due to injuries. He likes the way the team kept fighting after ugly defeats against the Cowboys and the Chargers. He likes Gruden’s offense and the way it plays to his strengths.
But does he like playing for this franchise? Does he like the way Snyder and Allen have treated him? Does he want to be here for the rest of his career?
He says we’ll learn more on Friday.
On Sunday, he simply reminded everyone that he’s capable of stinking up the joint like Manning. All will be forgiven if Cousins is in burgundy-and-gold next season.
Just don’t count on it.