Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC East [Print without images]

Sunday, December 16, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Redskins 38, Browns 21

By Dan Graziano


CLEVELAND -- A few thoughts on the Washington Redskinsfifth straight victory, this one over the Browns on Sunday afternoon.

What it means: Combined with the New York Giants' loss in Atlanta, and regardless of the outcome of the Dallas Cowboys' game against the Steelers, what this means is that the Redskins are in first place in the NFC East. They are 8-6, same record as the Giants and a half-game ahead of Dallas pending that result. They hold the tiebreaker over the Giants based on their superior division record, and if the Cowboys make it a three-way tie, the Redskins would still win the three-way tiebreaker by virtue of their record (2-1 so far) in games played among those three teams. So yes, the Redskins are now the NFC East team that controls its own destiny. If the Redskins win their final two games, they will be 10-6 and NFC East champions.

The other rookie QB: With starting quarterback Robert Griffin III sidelined by a knee injury, fourth-round draft pick Kirk Cousins made his first NFL start at quarterback. And after a shaky first couple of drives, Cousins settled in and played a fine game. His 54-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson in the first quarter got things going for him and he found Hankerson again from 2 yards out midway through the third quarter to extend the Washington lead to 10 points. He converted two third downs on the touchdown drive that put the Redskins up 31-14 in the fourth quarter. The Redskins confused the Browns with play-action, rolled Cousins out and designed a very nice game plan around their rookie backup, and he delivered with a big game.

D is the key: The Redskins played a good defensive game in the first half, but for the third week in a row they seemed to dial things up on defense after halftime. Linebackers Rob Jackson and London Fletcher each intercepted Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden, getting Cousins the ball back while he was building momentum, and the Redskins were able to convert both interceptions into touchdown drives. The Redskins' defense has been their weakness much of the year, but it's making big plays at this critical time of the season.

Looking ahead: Griffin went through about a 30-minute warm-up session on the field in the morning before the game, even though he knew he wasn't going to be suiting up. He looked spry and fluid and quick, and it seems likely that he'd be ready to go next week. But even if he's not, the Redskins have now seen that Cousins is capable of starting and winning an NFL game, and their comfort level at quarterback throughout the depth chart is probably the biggest reason they are now assured of finishing at least .500 for the first time since 2008.

What's next: The Redskins will travel up I-95 to Philadelphia and play the 4-10 Eagles at 1 p.m. Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. A week later, they finish the regular season with a home game against the Cowboys. The Redskins beat the Eagles 31-6 at home in Week 11 to start their current winning streak.