He’s a backup quarterback whose team lost, and yet Kirk Cousins was the player who made the biggest impact on the NFL on Sunday.
Cousins, starting for Washington against Philadelphia because Robert Griffin III suffered a dislocated ankle last week, was excellent: He completed 30 of his 48 passes, threw three touchdowns, showed off a great arm on deep balls and nice touch on short passes, only had one interception and — maybe most importantly — felt the pressure so well and got the ball away so quickly that he was never sacked. Cousins totaled 427 yards on the day, topping Griffin’s career high by 98 yards.
Yes, Washington lost. But blaming Cousins for that would be silly. Washington lost because its defense allowed Nick Foles to throw for 325 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Not because of anything Cousins did, or failed to do.
What Cousins did was make a real case that he’s a better quarterback than RGIII.
Cousins is nowhere near as talented a quarterback as Griffin. Cousins doesn’t have Griffin’s athleticism (for that matter, no quarterback in NFL history is as good an athlete as Griffin, who was an Olympic-caliber hurdler before he left track behind to focus on football), and Cousins probably doesn’t have as good a natural arm as Griffin does, either. In their first two seasons together in Washington, Griffin was better than Cousins, and it wasn’t close. Anyone calling for Cousins to be the starter in the last two years was probably more interested in stirring up a quarterback controversy than in accurately assessing the state of the quarterback position in Washington.
But things have changed. Griffin suffering yet another injury last week has only solidified the feeling that he’s simply too fragile to last in the NFL. And in the new offense run by new coach Jay Gruden, Cousins just looks like a better fit. In Week One, Griffin’s only full game in Gruden’s offense, Griffin looked overly cautious and never got much of anything going. Cousins has looked comfortable taking shots downfield.
I loved RGIII when he was at Baylor, and loved watching him in his rookie year. But I’m getting a sinking feeling that his career will go one of two ways: Either he’ll keep getting hurt, or he and his coaches will be so worried about him getting hurt that he’ll be put in bubble wrap by a stifling offense that doesn’t make use of his talents.
Cousins doesn’t have the same talent as Griffin. But Cousins may have a longer and more successful NFL career than Griffin. He certainly did enough on Sunday to make the case that he — not Griffin — is the quarterback of the future in Washington.
Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s action:
What a game in Seattle. The Super Bowl rematch was everything we could have hoped for, with the Seahawks jumping out to an early lead and the Broncos storming back to force overtime. The Seahawks got the 26-20 win, the Broncos got at least some satisfaction from knowing they can play a competitive game with the team that blew them out in February, and football fans got a treat. With what the NFL has dragged the game through over the last couple weeks, we deserved it.
Protection of the quarterback going too far. In theory, I support the NFL’s desire to make the game of football safer by taking out hits on defenseless players, particularly hits to the heads of quarterbacks who are in postures where they can’t defend themselves. In practice, NFL officials often go way too far in protecting the quarterback, at the expense of preventing defensive players from doing their jobs. That happened on Sunday in Arizona, where the Cardinals were handed 30 yards on back-to-back plays when 49ers players were flagged for hits on Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton. Former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira said on the FOX broadcast that he disagreed with the calls, and so did I. The first was a hit from San Francisco’s Dan Skuta to the head of Stanton while Stanton was beginning to slide, but it’s important to note that he was just beginning to slide — he hadn’t actually touched the ground yet. And on the second, 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis used his shoulder to hit Stanton in the chest — exactly the way players are told to hit — and yet he was called for roughing the passer anyway. Those 30 yards helped the Cardinals march down the field for a touchdown. A raw deal for the 49ers’ defense.
A big screwup in Seattle. While the Broncos had the ball in the third quarter, they successfully drew Seattle’s K.J. Wright offside. An official saw it and threw his penalty flag. And then something strange happened: Another official came in and claimed that Wright hadn’t been offside, and the head referee — who has the final call when two officials disagree — went with the official who got it wrong. The TV replays made it clear that Wright had been offside, but that didn’t matter because offside calls aren’t reviewable on replay. The NFL needs its officials to get better at communicating on the field, or make more calls reviewable on replay to get those mistakes right. Or both.
The Bengals are really, really good. Of all the NFL’s 3-0 teams, the one that has impressed me most is in Cincinnati. The Bengals, who just destroyed the Titans on Sunday, have a stifling pass defense and an offense that revolves around receiver A.J. Green, who in my view is the best receiver in football not named Megatron. The Bengals have their bye this week and then visit New England. The Bengals are already the only unbeaten team in the AFC, and a win over the Patriots would be a huge statement that the road to the Super Bowl will go through Cincinnati.
Tulloch pulls a Gramatica. Please, NFL players, take it easy with the celebrations. Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch hurt his knee jumping up to celebrate a sack, in a move reminiscent of former NFL kicker Bill Gramatica blowing out his knee. After watching that I paid closer attention to the way players celebrated for the rest of the day, and honestly, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often. Guys are jumping up and down, jumping on each other, smacking each other and generally doing things that can only lead to pain when they involve multiple adrenaline-fueled 250-pound men. Be smart, guys. A simple high-five is sufficient.
NFL should improve the broadcast rules. In the final moments of the Washington-Philadelphia game, FOX’s Joe Buck announced that some viewers would not be able to see the end of the game “because of NFL broadcast rules.” Those rules are dumb. It didn’t affect me personally because I have the NFL Sunday Ticket package, but for fans who only see NFL games through their local network affiliates, it’s ridiculous to have to miss the end of that game. A great game like Washington-Philadelphia should be exactly the kind of game the NFL wants as many fans as possible to see.