Kirk Cousins Defies Critics with Historic Washington Redskins Comeback

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistOctober 25, 2015

LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 25: Quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins celebrates with fans after defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-30 during a game at FedExField on October 25, 2015 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

"Pop quiz, hotshot." You spend all week as a national punching bag, listening, whether you admit it or not, to calls for your head. Calls for you to be benched grow louder and louder. Nobody wants you. Everybody wants you gone.

What do you do to change public opinion?

Well, if you're Kirk Cousins, your brand of damage control involves writing your name in the Washington Redskins's record books. You lead the biggest comeback in franchise history and tie a team record for completed passes in a game.

Those aren't bad ways to defy your critics and maybe even win a few new friends.

That's just what Cousins did, per USA Today For The Win's Chris Chase when he brought the Redskins back from the abyss at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Trailing 24-0 in the second quarter and with a chorus of boos sounding more like an artillery salvo at FedEx Field, Cousins might have folded. He might have gone interception crazy.

Cousins sent a message to his doubters in Week 7.
Cousins sent a message to his doubters in Week 7.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

In fact, that's what he's supposed to do. It's what's expected of him. It's what his critics would argue is his default setting.

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Well, just try and criticise No. 8 after his heroics against the Bucs. Be warned, though, your protests will sound awfully hollow. Actually, why would you even criticise a quarterback who ran for a score and threw for three touchdowns, the last to cap an 11th-hour drive to win the game?

Make no mistake, Cousins flipped the bird to a lot of naysayers when he flipped the game-winner to clutch tight end Jordan Reed.

This was the perfect retort to those who called for the end of the Jay Gruden-led Cousins experiment after Week 6's road defeat to the New York Jets. It didn't seem to matter to the jury that Cousins had struggled on the road against the league's best defense, while lacking the support of a credible running game and being undermined by a Washington D that can't get off the field.

All of those things were again conspiring against the man under center for the Burgundy and Gold when the Bucs came to town. During the visitors' early romp, coordinator Joe Barry's increasingly dismal defense was pushed all over the field, giving up a host of big plays in the process, per Michael Phillips of the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

michael phillips @michaelpRTD

Total yardage: Tampa Bay 203 Washington 21

michael phillips @michaelpRTD

Tampa averaging 14 yards per play right now. #Redskins

Frankly, things didn't improve for Barry's bunch all day—not even when Cousins started the comeback with a scoring scamper deep into the second period.

Even after the break, tackling remained a lost art for the men paid to do exactly that for Washington and so did applying pressure on Bucs rookie passer Jameis Winston.

Failing to bring down running back Doug Martin was the biggest problem, though. The issue only further highlighted Washington's own inability to move the ball on the ground early on, according to Mike Jones of the Washington Post:

Mike Jones @ByMikeJones

Bucs averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Skins averaging 0.5 yards per carry.

Just like the defensive woes, however, things didn't improve on the ground for the Redskins. The team's now permanently in-the-toilet rushing attack managed just 50 yards all day. This is against a Bucs outfit that entered the game with the league's 25th-ranked run defense.

So, with no running game backing him up and a defense letting Winston, Martin, Mike Evans and Co. run wild, Cousins had to win the game by himself. 

What's so often been a formula for disaster turned into a mini salvation for the much-, and often disproportionally, maligned quarterback.

Asked to win it by himself, Cousins put the team on his throwing shoulder. He completed 33 of 40 passes for 317 yards with not an interception in sight. That's a phenomenal day for any passer.

Cousins was efficient and clutch. He made key throws to Jamison Crowder and Pierre Garcon on the game-winning drive. The 2012 fourth-round pick also showed exceptional command of the offense Gruden can't wait to tell you will work wonders if only it has the right quarterback.

In fairness to Gruden, with the season, and his and Cousins' jobs, on the line, he finally opened up the playbook. He and offensive coordinator Sean McVay moved personnel around to manipulate coverage and create mismatches. They also used formations that tested Cousins' ability to make the right reads and get rid of the ball quickly.

It was a pattern most obvious on Reed's first touchdown. Facing 3rd-and-goal at the 3, Cousins had three receivers on one side, with Reed split out on the other. Running back Matt Jones motioned to the slot on Reed's side.

Reed's return made a huge difference for Cousins.
Reed's return made a huge difference for Cousins.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

The whole concept of the play was designed for one thing: to isolate Reed in single coverage.

Cousins had to know his tight end was his best read. He also had to know the ball would need to come out quickly to beat close coverage in a tight crowd at the goal line.

That's exactly what happened, as Cousins made a snap decision to force a laser strike inside, hitting Reed in traffic. It was a smart, quick throw—the kind Gruden's version of the West Coast passing game demands.

If you want to know why Cousins is a better fit than the Griff for a pocket-based, timing offense, just watch this play again and again.

But this was no isolated incident. Cousins spent the entire second half making the right reads, followed by accurate throws. Whenever Gruden and McVay changed things up to provide the spark Washington needed, Cousins answered the call.

When the Redskins went to a formation featuring a four-man bunch on one side, with an isolated receiver on the other, Cousins knew what to do.

He knew if the coverage made his one-on-one matchup the best to aim for. He also knew if the defensive look favored targeting a shallow crosser breaking free from the mesh-route concept on the other side. Most important, he knew exactly where those shallow crossers would be breaking open underneath.

That's the offensive command Gruden has been selling regarding Cousins ever since he named him the starter and sent RG3 to the lumber.

The QB Gruden wants ran the offense he wants in Week 7.
The QB Gruden wants ran the offense he wants in Week 7.Mark Tenally/Associated Press

Cousins' attempts to prove Gruden right have produced a roller-coaster ride through seven games. When he's been good, as he was at home to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4, the sight of Cousins' other game-winning comeback this season, he's been really good.

When he's been bad, the way he was for long stretches against the Jets, he's been downright diabolical.

Cousins didn't come of age during his historic day against the Bucs. No. 8 just proved what he can do when he's at his best.

It doesn't mean his problems are over. This isn't the turning of the proverbial corner. With the New England Patriots looming after the bye this week, it may only be a temporary stay of execution.

But while the criticism was ferocious last week, the praise should be just as lavish now for a quarterback still trying to find his way—a quarterback who remains the best bet to lead these 2015 Redskins to success.

Just try to criticize him after this.

All statistics and player information via NFL.com.

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