Late in the 2012 season, the Redskins faced an eight-point deficit in the last two minutes in an important game against the Ravens. Quarterback Robert Griffin III, in the midst of one of the best rookie seasons a quarterback has ever had, limped out of the game with a knee injury. In came Kirk Cousins for his first meaningful NFL action. The rookie finished the drive, throwing a touchdown pass to Pierre Garçon to bring the Redskins within two. He then scored the tying two-point conversion on a quarterback draw. The Redskins won on a field goal in overtime.
Fast forward to nearly three years later. The Redskins are again facing the Ravens. And although it’s an exhibition and not a game with heavy playoff implications, it still represents another big opportunity for Cousins.
Although the Redskins have not announced anything yet, and probably won’t until nearly game time, it seems certain that Cousins will start at quarterback for the Redskins against the Ravens tonight. That spot is vacant because the independent neurologists who originally cleared Griffin to play after being diagnosed with a concussion on August 20 against the Lions reversed the decision on Friday.
In the NFL, one player’s bad break can represent the big break that another player has been looking for. Could the unusual, perhaps unprecedented reversal following Griffin’s concussion represent an opportunity for Cousins?
It could, but a lot has to happen. First, Cousins has to play well tonight, perhaps very well. The Redskins have not scored a touchdown during the preseason with their first-team offense since 2013. If Cousins can guide the offense to a touchdown or two, stay away from what is usually a fierce Ravens pass rush, and, perhaps most importantly, stay away from turnovers.
Cousins’ last big chance came last year when Griffin was injured in the second game of the season. Jay Gruden left the door open for Cousins to keep the job if he played well. Cousins moved the team well in five starts but nine interceptions and his bad body language after throwing them landed him on the bench in favor of Colt McCoy. Later in the year when Gruden decided to bench a healthy Griffin, it was McCoy who went in behind center, not Cousins.
That is why protecting the ball will be vital for Cousins. If he turns the ball over he could well lose his chance again.
Even if Cousins plays well tonight, nothing is guaranteed for him. Griffin could be re-tested again in a week. If he passes that test he could be inserted back in as the starter no matter how good Cousins is against the Ravens. The dynamics of the decision making regarding Griffin are complicated, as discussed here earlier this week.
And if Griffin can’t go it would be unwise to rule out McCoy. As noted above, he was Gruden’s choice to replace a struggling Griffin last November. The general perception is that Cousins is ahead of McCoy in the competition to be the backup quarterback but Gruden may not go with the conventional wisdom.
But Cousins can’t worry about all of that. He is likely to play for only the first half, about five or six series, thirty or forty snaps. The fourth-year player needs to play as well as he ever has. The rest is out of his hands.