RG3 goes down late, but Kirk Cousins delivers to lead OT win

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The pain pulsing through Robert Griffin III’s sprained right knee late Sunday afternoon prevented the franchise quarterback from performing his magic when the Washington Redskins needed it most.

And if the sight of trainers tending to Griffin wasn’t enough to send the price of antacid through the roof in these parts, backup quarterback Kirk Cousins faced a two-point conversion needed to tie the Baltimore Ravens in the final seconds of a game with major playoff implications.

Griffin’s hearing, though, was not affected by the knee-bending hit he absorbed while scrambling eight plays earlier. When offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s play call sounded through his helmet radio headset, Griffin’s disappointment waned.

“This,” Griffin thought, “is awesome.”

The call included the option for a quarterback draw. “We didn’t think they’d be expecting it,” coach Mike Shanahan said. Not with Cousins, the fourth-round rookie backup who, like everyone else on the planet, doesn’t possess the combination of throwing and running ability that Griffin does.

Cousins faked the pass, then ran behind his blockers and lunged into the end zone. It sent the game to overtime, and the Redskins won 31-28 on a 34-yard field goal by Kai Forbath.

Griffin rose on his injured leg and embraced Cousins after the ball split the uprights. “Let’s make the playoffs,” Cousins told him. And the moment was his.

Cousins has waited and watched for most of the season as his rookie position-mate has become a star. What vindication, then, for him to complete two passes for 26 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown to Pierre Garcon, in relief to help the Redskins win their fourth-straight game.

“It has been communicated to me by some veterans that they believe in me and that if my name has to be called upon that they believe I can get it done, and that means the world,” Cousins said. “First and foremost, Robert has been doing an awesome job, and I have a lot to live up to if my number does get called.”

Cousins did Sunday with the poise and accuracy that attracted the Redskins even after they drafted Griffin in the first round in April.

The Redskins‘ playoff chances benefited. They improved to 7-6 to keep pace with the NFC East-leading New York Giants (8-5), who beat New Orleans on Sunday.

Washington also stayed one game back of the 8-5 Seattle Seahawks, who maintained their hold on the NFC’s final wild-card spot by blowing out Arizona.

A comeback win of this magnitude normally results in unmitigated jubilation. The Redskins trailed for the entire second half until Cousins‘ two-point run tied it and sent the home fans in the bipartisan crowd of 81,178 into a frenzy. Players, however, were concerned about their starting quarterback.

An MRI on Griffin’s knee Sunday night showed no significant ligament damage. “Everything is clear,” Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie said. Griffin’s status for next Sunday’s game against Cleveland is undetermined.

He limped off the field after Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, all 330 pounds, tackled him at full speed. Griffin’s right leg slightly wrapped around Ngata’s back, an unnatural bend, for sure.

“You’ve got to try to put aside all the worries that you have for Robert and the concern about him and is he going to be OK and how much this offense hinges on him,” left guard Kory Lichtensteiger said. “You have to put all that belief in Robert on Kirk. Kirk is a very capable guy. He knows what he’s doing.”

Cousins was on the sideline for almost three hours on this cold, raw day. He wore a jacket to stay warm, but he physically felt cold when he entered the game with 1:42 remaining and the Redskins at their 40-yard line trailing by eight.

Lichtensteiger knew immediately Cousins would be OK.

“All I need to hear from him is the play,” Lichtensteiger said. “If he can get that out and it makes sense and the protections are going the right way, it’s good.”

Players expected Cousins to be ready. On many weekdays, you can find him sitting on a couch outside the Redskins‘ locker room with his nose buried in his playbook. Sometimes he’ll be drawing plays using a pen and a pad of paper.

Knowing Griffin blocks him on the depth chart tests his patience, but Sunday’s results show he has handled it well. “It’s encouraging to watch a quarterback have success in this offense because you feel like you’re in a place that you succeed if your number does get called upon,” Cousins said. “Coach Shanahan’s track record with quarterbacks, this is a place where you want to play. In that sense, it’s a good position for me to be in.”

Although Griffin returned to the game for four plays, his knee was too painful. He yielded to Cousins.

On third-and-5 from the 11, Cousins pump-faked, rolled to his right and found a wide-open Garcon for the tying touchdown.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to try to make something happen and try to do my best RG3,’” Cousins said.

Cousins impersonated him again on the quarterback draw. From the sideline, Griffin saw the Ravens show a blitz. He knew the draw wouldn’t work and Cousins would have to check out of it.

But then the Ravens backed off. The draw was on.

The hole opened for Cousins, and — what else? — the rookie seized the opportunity.

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