- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATLANTA -- They praised him for his command in the huddle, the poise he showed in the pocket and his decisive passes. Quarterback Kirk Cousins provided what the Washington Redskins needed in the passing game.
Yes, he took advantage of a weak pass defense using three rookies in the secondary. Cousins also made one play after another, which is one reason the Redskins only lost 27-26, despite seven turnovers. In his first start of the season, with coach Mike Shanahan saying he benched Robert Griffin III to keep him healthy for the offseason, Cousins completed 29-of-45 passes for 381 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He became the first Redskins quarterback to pass for at least 300 yards in his first two starts -- his debut occurred in Week 15 last season.
"It was a gutsy performance by him," Redskins backup quarterback Rex Grossman said. "A lot of chaos during the week."
Chaos doesn't seem to even sum up the week. For Cousins, though, it was about an opportunity. He capitalized in a big way. But Cousins didn't focus on what he did well, instead pointing out his mistakes, including his fumble and the failed two-point conversion.
"Those four plays, if they go differently, it's probably a much better result," Cousins said. "[On the interceptions], the ball needed to be thrown further in and it's a completion and we're moving the chains. That's something I'll never do again. Every in cut I throw now will be where it needs to be."
The coaches still liked what he showed.
"It was nice to see him go out there and play with a lot of confidence," coach Mike Shanahan said. "He kept his composure and did a heck of a job leading us down the field. Just proud of the way he handled himself."
Cousins responded to adversity well. He threw a first-half interception from his own 1-yard line, failing to lead receiver Aldrick Robinson on an in-route. But on the next drive, Cousins connected with receiver Pierre Garcon for a 53-yard score. Cousins led field-goal drives on the next two series.
After his second interception, this one with 5 minutes, 45 seconds left in the game that led to a Falcons field goal and a 27-20 lead, Cousins drove the Redskins for what nearly was the game-winning series. He connected with receiver Santana Moss for a three-yard touchdown. On this series, Cousins completed 10 of 13 passes for 85 yards.
"He was just making very quick decisions," Grossman said, "getting the ball out quickly and accurately and conducting himself like a vet."
In recent weeks, Griffin had been hit much more than Washington liked. Sunday, Cousins was sacked once and hit only three times. He avoided potential sacks by getting rid of the ball or finding his checkdowns, which also helped him stay away from third-and-long situations as well.
"I had time," Cousins said. "I felt I was given a chance to succeed."
For the first time in several weeks, the Redskins' offense played with confidence. Players did not want to make it look like any positive comment about Cousins was a knock on Griffin. But there are differences.
"Kirk does a good job of asserting his own energy and his own mentality into the huddle," said Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen, who stressed that there's no issue with Griffin in this regard. "Rob is more laid back. Kirk demands a certain type of tempo and you saw that [Sunday] a little bit. Guys were in and out of the huddle. Guys were more energetic."
There's no threat of Cousins running the ball, unlike Griffin. That means he has to keep his eyes downfield and handle himself in the pocket differently, knowing his legs aren't a good option. The Redskins did not run the zone read option, focusing more on bootlegs and drop-backs.
"He was very poised to step into the situation he did," Redskins running back Alfred Morris said. "He did a phenomenal job commanding the huddle and commanding the game and overcoming adversity. He had turnovers; it happens. But it shows the character he has that he didn't let negative things like that bring him down."