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Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Cousins stood out in clutch situations

By John Keim

The Washington Redskins’ offense executed a rarity this season: They scored points on their final drive of both the first half and the game in Sunday’s 27-26 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

It was only the second time this season that has happened, with the win over Chicago being the first. The Redskins had scored just two touchdowns in their final drive of the game all season. And they had managed points on just five end-of-half drives.

You can point to facing a bad defense. You can point to the insertion of Kirk Cousins as the reason. Bottom line is, it happened and it hasn’t taken place enough of this season.

“Well, that’s what you like to see. You like to see how people react under those situations. Kirk did do a good job, especially at the end of the game,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “Even at halftime I thought we did some good things. That’s part of the maturation process of a quarterback. You like to see him in live situations. You can practice it all the way through your OTAs, you can practice it through minicamps, which he had a lot of reps, but can he take it to the field? I was pleased with how he handled himself.”

When looking at his numbers in these situations, I’ll include the final two drives of the first half because Cousins led field goal marches on both (and the second one started after a turnover with 35 seconds left). So for these two drives and the final one of the game, Cousins completed a combined 14 of 20 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown. And, yes, he missed on the two-point conversion pass at the end of the game.

Quarterbacks are measured in many ways – third down and red zone passing high on the list. Cousins completed 7 of 9 passes for 53 yards on third downs; he was 2-for-5 for 15 yards and a touchdown inside the 20-yard line. Another way is what teams do in the final minutes of a half or game. In his first start this season, Cousins performed well in this area, too.

“I think it’s repetition, getting a chance to feel comfortable with a two-minute offense, and, like I said, I think he did a pretty good job,” Shanahan said.

By way of comparison, Robert Griffin III had more success at the end of halves and games as a rookie than he did in 2013. Last season, there were three games in which Griffin led touchdown drives both at the end of the half and game. In a fourth game, at the New York Giants, he led a field goal drive at the end of a half and a touchdown on what the Redskins hoped was their final drive. But a Giants touchdown changed that and the Redskins fumbled on the finale. Still, Griffin did his job in crunch time.

In the Thanksgiving win at Dallas, Griffin led a touchdown drive at the end of the half and a field goal one in their last full drive.

Griffin led one game-winning field goal drive as a rookie (at Tampa Bay). He might have led another at St. Louis, if not for Josh Morgan’s bad penalty. Against Baltimore, Griffin drove Washington to the Ravens’ 16-yard line. After an intentional-grounding penalty, he left the game and Cousins entered to throw a touchdown pass and run the game-tying two-point conversion.

And, against Cincinnati, Griffin led a field goal drive at the end of the half and drove the Redskins from their own 2-yard line to the Bengals’ 19 trailing by seven before a sack and penalties pushed them far back. What helped Griffin on these drives last year was his explosiveness. Teams forced him to be patient throwing the ball and he was; but he could sting them with big runs, too.

Last season, the Redskins failed to score points in either of these situations five times. This year? Seven times.

It’s also noteworthy that Cousins nearly accomplished this in his start at Cleveland last season, leading a field goal drive to close the first half. Then, after a long touchdown drive to clinch the win, the Redskins drove to the Browns’ 3-yard line on their final drive before taking a knee to end the game.