The Washington Redskins got to where they were in 2012 because of Robert Griffin III.
But they were able to stay where they were in 2012—atop the NFC East—because of Kirk Cousins. When your starting signal-caller likes to run and has an increasingly lengthy injury history, you need a backup quarterback who can step in and hold down the fort when that starter inevitably gets hurt.
Right now, the Redskins have that. And now that RGIII is reportedly undergoing reconstructive surgery to repair at least partially torn ligaments in his right knee—the same knee in which he tore his ACL in college—Cousins' role on this team is more significant than ever.
Back before Griffin went down with an injury in Sunday's playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, there was talk of Cousins being traded for a couple of draft picks. In limited playing time in Griffin's absence, he had proven competent enough to have earned a starting job, at least for teams in desperate need of a starting-caliber quarterback.
The Redskins certainly won't be entertaining any ideas of trading Cousins anymore, and now, they're lucky they have a reliable backup quarterback as an insurance policy. But before Washington is able to improve on its 2012 success and hopefully advance in the playoffs a year from now, some things need to change.
Already, Cousins does his job well. For a rookie reserve, he seems to be impressively immune to pressure, as evidenced by the way he stepped into the fourth quarter of a critical must-win game against the playoff-bound Ravens and rallied his team. His efforts propelled the Redskins to a game-tying touchdown and, eventually, a game-winning field goal.
The week after that, he started in the place of an injured Griffin and led Washington to yet another victory, this time over Cleveland, throwing for 329 yards and two touchdowns.
On Sunday, in the waning minutes of a playoff game against Seattle, Cousins couldn't rally the Redskins to a win once again, but only because he didn't have enough time. When he entered the game late in the fourth quarter, the nail was already in the Redskins' coffin.
But what if he had entered the game sooner? What if he had come in when Washington was up 14-0 in the first quarter, when it was obvious that Griffin had tweaked his knee and was playing in pain?
The Redskins know they can count on Cousins—or at least they should. He has earned the right to their trust. Now, the coaching staff just needs to utilize him correctly.
You never want to pull out your starting quarterback in a playoff game, especially when he is as dynamic a player as RGIII. If Mike Shanahan had pulled him and the Redskins lost, he would have faced criticism for that, just like he's being criticized now for not pulling him.
But Cousins is a viable option. He's not Greg McElroy. He's not Nick Foles. He has proven—twice, in the month of December—that he is capable of finishing the job Griffin started.
The Redskins are lucky to have Cousins. They need him.
Is Kirk Cousins a viable NFL starting quarterback?
Who knows what kind of shape Griffin is going to be in when training camp starts this summer? Or when the regular season starts in September? His surgery comes with a six- to eight-month recovery period, according to ESPN'S Chris Mortensen (via Pro Football Talk), and in a worst-case scenario, Washington could have to start 2013 with Cousins under center.
But the worst case isn't so bad. If Griffin isn't healthy enough to go, the Redskins have a very capable option waiting in the wings.
They just have to get used to the idea of using him—and believing in him.