A month after their first professional seasons had ended, Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson were invited to New Orleans to partake in the annual NFL awards ceremony held a day before the Super Bowl.
It wasn’t their first meeting. Wilson transferred to Wisconsin for his final college football season, and the pair of games he played against Cousins and Michigan State were among the year’s most memorable — a regular-season contest decided by a dramatic finish, and the Big Ten championship game, with an appearance in the Rose Bowl on the line.
And, a month before that New Orleans encounter, in a game better known for quarterback Robert Griffin III’s knee injury, Wilson and the Seahawks were able to climb back from a 14-point deficit in a wild card playoff victory over Cousins and the Redskins.
Thus, when Cousins and Wilson had a moment to chat, Cousins’ message to his counterpart was brief.
“You make me nervous,” Cousins recalled telling Wilson. “When I’m standing on the sidelines and the ball’s in your hand, I’m always nervous, because you never know what the next play’s going to be.”
That feeling may return again on Monday night, when Cousins and the Redskins host Wilson and the Seahawks. It’ll be the second consecutive nationally televised night game for Washington, whose offense was flying high with Cousins for two weeks before it was undone by six turnovers in a loss to the New York Giants on Sept. 25.
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Seattle, meanwhile, has overcome two of the league’s better offenses in its first three games, dispatching Green Bay in the opener and outlasting Denver in overtime in a Super Bowl rematch.
“When you play a team like Seattle, you didn’t try to beat their offense,” said Redskins free safety Ryan Clark. “You stood up every time their defense was on the field and you watched them, and you tried to understand the way they were playing on defense and you tried to outplay them.”
Part of Wilson’s luster has been because he hasn’t made very many mistakes. He threw 10 interceptions as a rookie and nine last season — marks that ranked, each year, in the top third among all quarterbacks.
He’s also managed a run-oriented offense that has finished in the top five each of the last two seasons and has been surrounded by explosive, yet steady, targets in the passing game.
“Smart. Detailed. He has a plan,” said Redskins defensive backs coach Raheem Morris. “They give him simple reads, and he does a great job of figuring them out. You know, if you go out there and give him a great look and he knows exactly what to do with the football, he’s gonna execute and get it done.
“They do a nice job of using their running back to alleviate a lot of the pressure, to keep them out of bad situations, and they get those things down to third-and-shorts and third-and-mediums, man, and they’re tough to beat because he can use his legs.”
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A Richmond native, Wilson originally attended N.C. State, where he redshirted his freshman year in 2007 before playing the next three. He then exhausted his collegiate eligibility in 2011 by transferring to Wisconsin, where he pursued a graduate degree in communications.
Redskins cornerback David Amerson also went to N.C. State, and he and Wilson overlapped one year — in 2010, when Wilson was a junior and Amerson was a freshman. Amerson quickly noticed that Wilson was a dynamic football player, and he was struck by Wilson’s personality and the way he carried himself around his teammates.
“He isn’t the biggest vocal guy, but he’s always encouraging,” Amerson said. “He’s always the first one to every drill — always high-energy, running around doing all the right things that a leader should do. I think the biggest thing is that he leads by example. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”
That kind of leadership is something Seattle coach Pete Carroll has noticed Wilson develop during his time with the Seahawks. Now finally acclimatized to the area, Wilson has made progress establishing his Why Not You Foundation, which, he said, will originally support victims of domestic violence.
And, Redskins coach Jay Gruden said, that kind of approach is evident on the field. He said Thursday that Wilson “plays like a 10-year vet” because of the decisions he makes, both with regards to his ball security and his accuracy.
“Russ understands what he has to do to win the game,” Clark said. “Understanding the situation is, I think where he excels, and understanding how not to hurt his team is where he makes a difference. He’s savvy beyond his years as far as understanding the quarterback position.”