Robert Griffin III is not the only rookie quarterback on the Washington Redskins who can play.
Kirk Cousins proved Sunday that he’s pretty good, too.
Then there’s the Redskins' defense, which made sure Cousins had all the help he needed until he could clear out the butterflies.
Add it all together, and it gave the Redskins a 38-21 win over the Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium. It was their fifth straight victory, boosting their record to 8-6 and keeping them in hot pursuit of a playoff berth.
The Washington offense went into Sunday having scored 31 or more points three times in the last four games. But there was concern that with the absence of Griffin, who was deactivated after suffering a sprained knee in last Sunday’s 31-28 win over the Baltimore Ravens, the scoring might go down. Cousins made sure it did not, as the Redskins tied for their second-highest point total of the season.
A fourth-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft out of Michigan State, he made the most of his first pro start. Recovering from a slow start -- 0-for-3 passing with an interception that led to a Cleveland touchdown and a 7-0 deficit just 6:19 into the game -- he finished with a 26-of-37 performance for 329 yards and two touchdowns with an interception for a quarterback rating of 104.4.
“This wasn’t my first rodeo -- I played a lot in the Big 10 -- but I was still nervous; I can’t lie,” Cousins said. “Since I got here, I’ve tried to make the most of my opportunities, and I think I did that today.”
A native of Holland, Mich., Cousins had a large group of family and friends from both high school and college in attendance, some of whom even sat in the Dawg Pound. He did not disappoint them.
“What a blessing it was for my first pro start to be within five hours of my home,” he said. “This is a good feeling. I told my dad last night that, depending on if we won or not, this was going to be the highest of highs or the lowest of lows.”
It was closer to the latter early in the game with the slow start.
“I kept talking to Kirk about being cool, calm and collected and not freaking out at the start,” Griffin said. “I told him that it was not going to be perfect, but that it would all come together.”
And it did.
Cousins righted himself by throwing a 54-yard TD pass wide to wide receiver Leonard Hankerson with 8:16 left in the first quarter.
“I had a chance to run for a big gain, but I saw I had an opening down the field -- there was no safety over the top -- so I decided to go for it,” Cousins said.
Explained Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan, “Kirk made a perfect throw, and he got started from that. Kirk showed what he’s all about. That first half was not one of the best halves of football we’ve played this year. But he kept his composure. I felt we did that as a football team.”
This was a complete team victory for Washington, which rallied from a 14-10 halftime deficit. With all the focus on quarterback play and the offense, the defense took charge in the second half, intercepting Browns quarterback
“Rob’s interception was huge,” said fellow linebacker London Fletcher, who had the other interception late in the third quarter. “With Kirk in there, we knew on defense how important it was for us to help him out and play well.”
When the offense was struggling in the first half, the defense kept Browns from running away with the game. And in the second half, the only big play on offense the Browns made was Weeden’s 69-yard scoring pass to wide receiver
Fletcher, a Cleveland native who went to Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School and John Carroll University, played back in his hometown for the first time in his 15-year NFL career. Like Cousins, he put on a good show, especially for the 42 people for whom he purchased tickets. Along with the interception, he had a team-leading seven total tackles.
“This was big for me today, this was special,” Fletcher said. “When we got in yesterday, our bus route from the airport to the hotel took us right through my old neighborhood.”
As for Griffin, he did not get a chance to play in the city where he would have ended up had the Browns -- and not the Redskins -- been able to pull off a trade with the St. Louis Rams to be able to select him No. 2 overall in last spring’s NFL Draft.
“Players play, so I was not happy about the decision to sit me,” said Griffin, who watched the game from the sidelines in street clothes. “I worked the whole week as if I were playing. I felt I could play.
“I know they were trying to protect me from myself, and that I got healthier from not playing. I respect the decision they made, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.”