ATLANTA – It didn’t matter that the Washington Redskins had committed seven turnovers on Sunday afternoon, or that no team had won a game while doing so in the last 10 seasons.
As Kirk Cousins stood in the huddle barking a two-point conversion play to his offensive teammates, he had moved beyond the errors of the previous 59 minutes – the interceptions, the fumbles, even the incompletions.
The quarterback scanned the Atlanta Falcons’ defense, satisfied.
“I thought we had them on the ropes,” Cousins said.
What would have been a dramatic recovery under a backup quarterback instead became the latest in a long string of defeats for the Redskins on Sunday, with Cousins’ conversion pass broken up and Washington falling to Atlanta, 27-26, for its sixth consecutive loss.
Cousins, stepping in for Robert Griffin III, completed 29 of 45 passes for 381 yards and three touchdowns in his second career start and first in almost a year. He helped the Redskins (3-11) erase a 14-point first-quarter deficit, and after throwing two interceptions in the second half, he oversaw a 13-play, 80-yard scoring drive that ended with 18 seconds remaining on a 3-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Santana Moss.
The two additional points were harder to come by. With wide receivers Joshua Morgan and Pierre Garçon to his right, the Redskins called a pick play on a rollout meant to get one of the two open.
Cousins took the shotgun snap and ran to his right, but a window to Morgan or Garçon never opened. He threw the pass anyway, defenders in pursuit, with his throw to Garçon tipped up and out of the end zone by cornerback Desmond Trufant.
The Falcons (4-10), who had lost five of their last six games, recovered the following onside kick attempt and kneeled to end the game.
Washington’s decision to go for two rather, than to settle for the extra point attempt and potentially send the game into overtime, received strong support in the locker room. Moss, who was in the left slot Garçon, in particular, was all for it.
“I definitely liked it,” said Garçon, who had seven catches for a team-high 129 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. “I definitely want to play to win, so I was definitely all for it.”
Cousins, informed Wednesday he would be the starting quarterback for the Redskins’ final three games of the season, admitted to being nervous for a significant portion of Sunday morning. He took the first bus from the team hotel to the Georgia Dome to help with his mental preparation, and he was on the field three hours before the game began, working out and warming up.
Griffin, the starter for the first 13 games, was shut down over concerns about his health and readiness for the offseason. After throwing passes to receivers during pregame warm-ups, he stood on the sideline in a long-sleeved black shirt and, occasionally, a burgundy jacket, counseling Cousins and offering him advice at the end of each series.
Cousins had told both Griffin and Rex Grossman, promoted from his typical third-string role to be the backup for the game, that he was interested in hearing any of their thoughts throughout the afternoon.
Early on, he didn’t need it. With the Redskins up 20-14 at halftime, Cousins completed eight of 13 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns – a 23-yard strike to tight end Fred Davis in the first quarter and a 53-yard lob to Garçon in the second quarter.
The third quarter was different. Washington went three-and-out on three possessions and Cousins threw an interception on the fourth – a bad throw intended for Aldrick Robinson.
He threw another interception midway through the fourth quarter, with Trufant undercutting Garçon on a route 20 yards downfield and muscling the ball away from the receiver.
But on the next drive, Cousins remained focused. He converted on third-and-4 and third-and-6, then didn’t face a third down the rest of the possession. Two completions were for 11 yards; a third, to tight end Logan Paulsen, also went for 11 yards after he tiptoed down the sideline before falling out of bounds.
A delay of game penalty with 28 seconds left didn’t deter him; Robinson gained 12 yards on the next play. Then came the 3-yard pass to a wide-open Moss in the end zone, bringing on the conversion quandary.
The offense stuck with it. As the play broke down, Cousins tried to, as well.
And, with games remaining against the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants, the Redskins will stick with him.
“I’m always amazed at how he approaches his work, you know?” Paulsen said. “He’s so young, too. He approaches it like he’s been in the league for a long time, so I think that’s great for him – and it will be great moving forward.”