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Redskins vs. Browns: No Reason to Believe Washington Won't Win the NFC East

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 16:  Quarterback Robert Griffin III #10 of the Washington Redskins walks by quarterback Kirk Cousins #12 against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 16, 2012

Who would have guessed that the Washington Redskins would move into first place in the NFC East for the first time all season in Week 15, and with Kirk Cousins leading the offense?

By no means is there a quarterback controversy brewing in Washington. But in his first career start Sunday in place of the injured Robert Griffin III, Cousins posted a 104.4 passer rating in a phenomenal effort against a solid Cleveland Browns defense, leading the Redskins to their fifth win in a row—their longest streak since 2005.

If Mike Shanahan hadn't already locked up Coach of the Year honors, that debate can now officially be put to bed.

Shanahan drafted Cousins in the fourth round in April knowing that he would need an insurance policy for his new franchise quarterback. That largely-criticized move has already paid dividends in a huge way, with Cousins leading the 'Skins to back-to-back December victories.

Now, a team that is without its top offensive player and its top defensive player—and one that has also lost several key starters for the season—controls its own destiny, two victories away from winning this division for the first time since 1999.

Cousins was steady and poised, throwing with more zip as the game progressed and completing over 70 percent of his passes with an 8.9 average. He isn't a speed demon like RG3, but he was mobile enough for the offense to succeed. 

What's most encouraging is that Cousins was at his best in the game's most important moments. The Redskins put up 28 of their 38 points in the second half after trailing at halftime. It marked the third straight week in which the Redskins won despite being down at the half. 

Don't overlook what the defense continues to do in the second half of games. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is dialing it up and making great adjustments based on what's happening early in games. The Washington defense intercepted Brandon Weeden twice in the second half on Sunday, with pressure coming in key moments.

The Redskins might not have the firepower the Giants have, especially with Griffin hurt. And they might not have the talent the Cowboys have, especially with Brian Orakpo and Fred Davis on injured reserve. But they've found a winning formula.

They've lost the turnover battle just once since Week 7 and are clearly the division's most consistent team. 

This is a team that, at this point, is much greater than the sum of its parts. And with RG3 likely to return soon, my money's on Shanahan's team finishing this thing off and hosting its first playoff game this century.

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