Kirk Cousins’ three-game audition doesn’t yield too many favorable answers

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It was a golden chance for Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, but his three-game audition as the starting quarterback simply raised more questions than it answered.

After a second consecutive rough week, this time at MetLife Stadium in a 20-6 loss to the New York Giants, any hopes that Cousins had raised his trade value appear dashed. That was one of the goals Washington coach Mike Shanahan stated publicly when he decided to bench quarterback Robert Griffin III for the final three games against Atlanta, Dallas and the Giants. It didn’t work out as planned.

Albeit in a driving rain, Cousins completed just 19 of 49 passes for 169 yards against New York. He fumbled with his team inside the 20 and driving for the go-ahead score in the third quarter. He was also intercepted twice.

In his three games, Cousins was 69-for-130 for 747 yards and five interceptions. Things weren’t all bad, of course. He also threw four touchdown passes, including three in the Atlanta game in his second career start.

“Did some good things and because I was able to be in this opportunity I can go back and be tough on myself,” Cousins said. “Go look at my fundamentals, look at my progressions, my understanding of concepts, my understanding of defenses and get a feel for what I’m doing well and what I’m not doing so well.”

But Cousins didn’t exactly inspire confidence that he’s ready to be a full time starter somewhere in the NFL next year. And that alone will hurt his trade value if the organization, under coach Mike Shanahan or a new regime, decides to test that market.

Cousins, 25, was a fourth-round draft pick by the Redskins in 2012, the same year the club drafted Griffin with the second overall pick. He played in three games last season, helping win two late in the season as Washington made its dramatic push for the NFC East title. This season he saw late action in games against Denver and Kansas City before starting the final three – a pair of one-point losses and Sunday’s 20-6 defeat.

“[Cousins] did a good job. He put us in position to win games,” wide receiver Pierre Garcon said. “We didn’t win games. Kirk didn’t let us down. We picked up right where we left off. Kirk did a great job, I think. He did very well.”

Cousins, however, made several questionable decisions during the Giants game with at least three passes dropped by New York defensive players saving the day from becoming a complete disaster. As it was, Cousins struggled in the elements.

But there’s also little question he was put in a tough spot taking over for Griffin late in the season with his team out of playoff contention at 3-10. Garcon was his only legitimate weapon in the pass game and Cousins‘ team needed to score plenty of points to keep pace with a defense that was one of the NFL’s worst.

“It’s never just one element of it,” offensive guard Chris Chester said. “I know for a fact there were some times we could be a little bit better in protection to give him a better chance to throw a better ball. We could have done better with that. There may have been a couple drops. I think Kirk will take responsibility for whatever he may have missed or not missed in a game, but it’s never just him.”

And so Cousins says he will use these three chances heading into next season. He knows there’s always the possibility of a trade, whether the coaching staff and front office remains intact or not. Griffin remains the unquestioned starter heading into 2014.

But Cousins noted that he faced varied situations the last three weeks from two-minute drills to difficult weather conditions. Other teams will evaluate his up-and-down film and some scouts and executives will see enough positive to outweigh the negative. Cousins, at least, believes that these three precious games showed he can thrive amidst the chaos of the sport’s most prominent position.

“My short two-year career, I’ve realized that if you’re looking for security, stability and comfort, being an NFL quarterback is not really the job to find it,” Cousins said, “Things change all the time – guys get cut, guys get traded, coaches get let go, coaches get hired, systems change. If you’re looking for stability this isn’t the profession. We understand that.”

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