It Doesn't Matter Who Is Playing Quarterback in Washington's Current Goat Rodeo

Ty Schalter@tyschalterNFL National Lead WriterDecember 16, 2013

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Two interceptions. Five fumbles lost. A failed two-point conversion that forced the end of the game and another winnable matchup resulting in a gut-wrenching loss.

It's just another week in Washington's season where the sublime has become the ridiculous—and the bizarre, and the surreal, and the just plain awful.

All week the NFL world buzzed with the benching of quarterback Robert Griffin III, the promotion of understudy Kirk Cousins and the connection of all of it to the likelihood of head coach Mike Shanahan living to coach another season, game or minute.

What would the Washington offense look like with a different quarterback at the helm, one with completely different skills?

Pretty much the same: like a goat rodeo.

Back in the Saddle

After the opening Washington drive ended in a strip-sack of Cousins, everything seemed to click for the second-year understudy. 

On the ensuing drive, tailback Alfred Morris carried three times for 44 yards; a warmed-up Cousins completed all three of his pass attempts for 36 yards, including a 23-yard strike to Fred Davis:

If that play-fake, bootleg and downfield rocket looked familiar, it's exactly the kind of play Griffin torched secondaries with throughout last season.

That's when the Washington defense stiffened up. After forcing the first Atlanta Falcons punt, Santana Moss muffed the catch, turning it over deep in his own zone. His defense held strong again, though, coming up with a big goal-line stand and holding Atlanta to a field goal.

On the first play of the next drive, Cousins flashed that play-action magic again, hitting receiver Aldrick Robinson on a 62-yard bomb.

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 15:  Alfred Morris #46 of the Washington Redskins fumbles the ball against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on December 15, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Morris then undid the good he'd done on the previous drive by coughing up Washington's third lost fumble. The Falcons, well-acquainted with miscues themselves, fumbled it right back. Incredibly, Moss gave it right back on the very next play: back-to-back-to-back fumbles.

Cousins kept a stiff upper lip. On the next drive, he froze the defense with a pump fake, then launched a 53-yard touchdown bomb to wideout Pierre Garcon.

After a Falcons punt, Cousins led Washington back down the field for a game-tying field goal with just 0:54 left. Incredibly, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's first pass on the next drive was picked off, and Cousins completed two quick passes to set up a go-ahead field goal right before halftime.

After going down 14-0, Cousins and the Washington offense had scored 20 points in just under 16 minutes, taking an improbable lead into halftime.

Dirt Nap

There are only so many times you can turn the ball over in a game; per, the last time a team lost five fumbles was almost exactly four years ago, Dec. 14, 2009, when the Arizona Cardinals turned it over seven times in a 24-9 loss to the San Francisco 49ers

By the end of Sunday's game, Washington would turn it over seven times, too.

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 15: Kirk Cousins #12 of the Washington Redskins chats with Robert Griffin III after throwing a 4th quarter interception against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on December 15, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunnin
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

It went three-and-out to open the second half. Surprisingly the NFL's worst scoring defense held strong on another goal-line stand; the Falcons tried to punch it in on fourth down and failed.

Cousins took over in the shadow of his own goal line.

There was a kind of magic in the air; a 99-plus-yard touchdown drive would be the sort of clutch, head-turning achievement that would make Shanahan's idle musing on ESPN 980 about Cousins' first-round trade value, via Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post, sound sensible.

Instead, Cousin's hand slipped off the rope. He hit the dirt hard.

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan went back to the play-action well (surprising, given a defense revved up for a safety) and this time brought up nothing but an old boot of an interception. The return took the Falcons nearly back to where the play had started, and tailback Steven Jackson punched it in.

Cousins, Morris and company couldn't even convert a first down on each of their next two drives, and Morris coughed up their fifth lost fumble on the next possession.

Time to send in the clowns:

With time running out, Cousins took over on the Washington 18. With another chance to make an impact—and maybe make himself some money—Cousins reared back and launched his second interception of the day.

After the defense held the Falcons to a field goal, Cousins got one more chance to lead a game-winning drive. With 80 yards to go and 3:25 to work with, Kyle Shanahan put the game completely on Cousins' shoulders.

Cousins finally went the distance, going 10-of-13 for all 80 yards and a touchdown. Down by one with just seconds left on the clock, Washington's coaching staff went for two points, and the win. After a Cousins scramble, his toss to the back corner fell incomplete.

Thus ending a crazy nine-turnover game—and maybe, the Shanahans' tenure in Washington.

All Tuckered Out

A week after Mike Shanahan (possibly) kicked off a week of speculation about his job by (possibly) leaking to ESPN that he almost quit last season, questions about his future as head coach didn't sit well. Shanahan walked out in the middle of his postgame press conference:

"We're a football team," Shanahan told reporters. "I'd sure like to concentrate on that." A football team that's 3-11 with two games left to play, though, isn't much of a football team—and what is there to concentrate on besides the question of who'll be trying to help these two young quarterbacks back in the saddle?

With a "Thank you, gentlemen," and a wave of his hand, Shanahan cut off a reporter mid-question and left, seeming to think himself too lofty to address the slapstick fiasco he'd (possibly) created.

The goofy antics of the Beltway's billion-dollar goat rodeo have been hilarious to outsiders and mind-boggling to fans of what was one of the NFL's proudest franchises.

There were the allegations of ESPN's well-placed "coaching source" that owner Dan Snyder had grown uncomfortably close to Griffin, undermining the head coach. Then there was Jason LaCanfora's CBS Sports report that Kyle Shanahan's "virtual autonomy" and staff of inexperienced friends was unraveling the club.

After that came the decision to start Cousins, deactivating Griffin and making him "extremely angry," according to an NFL Media report.

All that's left is for Mike Shanahan to tie Washington's Super Bowl trophies to the back of his car and drive around the parking lot, Seinfeld-style.

Cousins didn't have any better offensive design or play-calling than Griffin did, nor any more dangerous playmakers surrounding him. Though Washington's defense had one of its better games of the season, it still left Cousins to score 28 points all by himself.

Just like Griffin, Cousins had his fair share of great moments; just like Griffin, he made his fair share of mistakes. Asking either talented young quarterback to not only overcome his mistakes but also put the team on his back and win games by himself is asking too much.

Though it's hard to see the Shanahans surviving this, one thing is clear: Whether Griffin or Cousins is starting, Washington just isn't competitive right now.


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