Wizards

Cousins shines in Redskins' 38-21 win over Browns

201212161256465761419-p2.jpeg

Cousins shines in Redskins' 38-21 win over Browns

CLEVELAND (AP) The Redskins were unwilling to risk their future.

Kirk Cousins took care of their present.

With star quarterback Robert Griffin III sidelined with a sprained right knee, Cousins threw two touchdown passes in his first NFL start and led Washington to its fifth straight win, 38-21 over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

An unheralded fourth-round pick, Cousins has spent his first season as Griffin's understudy.

For one day, he relished a chance to be the star.

``It's a game I will remember for a long time,'' said Cousins, who passed for 329 yards and kept the Redskins' playoff push from losing any speed. ``If I die tomorrow, I can say I started a game in the NFL and we won. It's a good feeling.''

Cousins connected with Leonard Hankerson for both TDs in his first career start, Alfred Morris ran for two TDs and the Redskins (8-6) barely missed a beat without the talented RG3, who was told Saturday night he would not play or be active for the crucial game.

Almost 24 hours after learning of the Redskins' decision, one coach Mike Shanahan based on the recommendation of doctors, Griffin was still upset.

``Players play, so I was not happy with the decision,'' Griffin said. ``But at the end of the day, that's the decision they went with. I respect that, but it doesn't mean I necessarily have to like it. They said they were just protecting me from myself, not allowing me to put myself in harm's way.''

Cousins finished 27 of 36, rushed three times for 22 yards and ran Washington's offense with RG3-like precision.

A week ago, he came off the bench to rescue the Redskins after Griffin sustained a Grade 1 sprain of the lateral collateral ligament. Cousins was on the field from the opening kickoff against the Browns and showed he can lead Washington just as effectively as his more hyped teammate.

``Kirk did an excellent job of executing everything we asked him to do,'' Shanahan said.

With their longest winning streak since 2007, the Redskins moved into a three-way tie with New York and Dallas atop the NFC East.

Afterward, Griffin conceded Washington's win took out some of the sting out of having to stand on the sideline in a burgundy-colored warmup suit and stocking cap.

``It was a great business trip for us,'' Griffin said. ``I got healthier by not playing, we won the game and put ourselves in position to control our own destiny.''

For the Browns (5-9), this December is on its way to ending like so many others.

Cleveland had its three-game winning streak stopped, its playoff hopes dashed.

There doesn't appear to be much of a chance that coach Pat Shurmur will keep his job. In fact, the Browns may undergo another massive overhaul once new owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner get done. They must have cringed at the mass exodus by Cleveland fans from the home finale after the Redskins pulled away in the fourth quarter.

``We let ourselves down and we let the whole city of Cleveland down,'' said rookie running back Trent Richardson, who had two rushing TDs. ``We're supposed to go out with a blast. It was a big ballgame and we didn't do what we were supposed to do.''

Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden struggled from the outset. He went 21 of 35 for 244 yards and threw two interceptions in the third quarter, both leading to Washington TDs. Weeden had several passes batted down and he did nothing to quiet debate over whether he should be Cleveland's QB going forward.

Shurmur refused to call Weeden's performance a ``setback'' but that's exactly what it appeared to be.

``Obviously I didn't play well enough for us to win,'' Weeden said. ``I didn't play well for the most part throughout. I'm not losing any confidence over it, because I felt like I'm still going in the right direction. I just didn't play well enough to put this team in position to win. I put our defense in a tough spot. You just can't turn it over.''

Griffin practiced all week and assumed he would start after displaying his mobility. But the Redskins were concerned he could further injure his knee and decided to sit him.

``He tried to show us everything that he could possibly do to get himself ready to play,'' said Shanahan, now one win behind Mike Holmgren for 11th place on the career list. ``I was so impressed with how he worked. But at the end of the day, the doctors did not feel he was ready. That LCL was just not in position for him to play a live game.''

Cousins might not be RG3, but he was efficient, accurate and only made one major mistake - an early interception to set up Cleveland's first TD.

If the Browns thought they were getting a break with Cousins, he proved to be as challenging to stop as Griffin.

``This isn't my first rodeo,'' Cousins said. ``I did play a lot of football in the Big Ten. We started slow, but you've got to have character to dig deep. We didn't get spooked by a slow start.''

Cousins' second TD pass to Hankerson gave the Redskins a 24-14 lead. As Cousins came to the sideline, Griffin gave him a fist bump and then sat on the bench with his backup, who for the past two weeks has shown he too can lead the Redskins.

Before the game, Griffin gave Cousins some advice.

``I talked to him about being cool, calm and collected and not to freak out,'' Griffin said. ``He did a good job of staying poised and staying confident in there.''

NOTES: With his two rushing TDs, Richardson broke Hall of Famer Jim Brown's 55-year-old team rookie record. Brown had nine in 1957. ... Redskins K Kai Forbath made a 44-yard field goal and is 15 of 15, one shy of the NFL record to start a career set by Garrett Hartley. ... Morris has nine TDs rushing, passing Skip Hicks (1998) for the most by a Redskins rookie. ... Shanahan said OT Tyler Polumbus has a concussion. ... Shanahan did not have any updates on injuries to LB Lorenzo Alexander (shoulder) or OL Will Montgomery (knee). ... Browns S T.J. Ward injured his knee.

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

MORE 2018 NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Quick Links

Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

img_4776.jpg
NBA

Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

MORE 2018 NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!