- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 20, 2015

LANDOVER — Available in gray, red or white is one variation. Kirk Cousins‘ head serves as the “O” for knockoff “You like that?” T-shirts. In another version, Cousins is standing and pointing in the middle of the phrase he shouted following an emotional overflow earlier in the season after a comeback win.

The catchphrase circulated through the crowd at FedEx Field during the Washington Redskins‘ 35-25 almost-there win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Cousins threw four more touchdown passes, tying a career high. He lumbered thoughtfully through defenders for a 13-yard rushing touchdown. The numbers have piled high enough that they beget the the checking of other numbers. Cousins‘ distribution and totals during his season as surprise starter are pushing Redskins records.

His 22 completions on Sunday vaulted him to the top of the franchise’s list for completions in a single season. He surpassed the 327 of Jason Campbell in 2009. Cousins has 336 completions with two games to play.

Cousins also finished with 319 passing yards against Buffalo. It was his sixth 300-yard passing game of the season, breaking the Redskins‘ previous team record of five, accomplished by Sonny Jurgensen in 1967, Jay Schroeder in 1986 and Mark Rypien in 1989. Cousins has 10 career 300-yard passing games, which tie him with Rypien for third-most in organization history.

Cousins‘ accelerated learning has brought teammates along. Tight end Jordan Reed has tied Jerry Smith’s team record for touchdowns by a tight end in a single season with nine. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson gained a season-high 153 yards against the Bills.

“We’ve known we’ve had some bona fide playmakers on this team, on this offense, to be exact,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “DeSean, Pierre [Garcon], those guys are premier wide receivers, been doing it a long time. With the emergence of J-Reed being there, that constant force; people can’t guard him, it seems like. We’ve got everything we need. It just comes down to the O-line protecting and giving Kirk enough time to make his decisions.”

The varied skill players Washington so often assured existed are providing Cousins options to learn with. Jackson’s lid-lifting speed helps creates gaps for Reed. In a pinch, Garcon will jump over the middle to pull in a pass pre-whack. Rookie Jamison Crowder adds a darting element. The rushing game, well, it remains moderate.

In training camp, Cousins rarely worked with this grouping. The team was still in the hands of quarterback Robert Griffin III. Once Cousins was moved into the starting spot, Jackson was removed by a hamstring injury. Gone for two months was Jackson’s big-play and space creation. When he returned Nov. 8, Jackson began to feel his way back. He said on Sunday he’s felt right since playing the New England Patriots in that game, though his production has been sporadic.

His connection with Cousins worked the same. Lacking the time together in training camp, then for almost half the season, left them behind. The merging of their minds — Cousins throwing deep passes when Jackson was coming out of a break — has led to big-play results. Jackson’s elite speed helps, too. They combined for a 77-yard touchdown reception against the Bills. Jackson has 20 career touchdowns of 60-plus yards. Jerry Rice holds the NFL record with 23.

“This is his first full year being a starter in this league,” Jackson said. “He has a lot he is trying to accomplish. He has a lot coming at him. Defense are showing him different looks. I think the more and more we play together, the more snaps we take together, you’ll see more days like this. As a wide receiver, it’s tough because you do want to make the big plays for your team.”

There were two times to look closer at Reed on Sunday. Once, he left the field, windmilling his right arm trying to unwind a knock to his shoulder. Another time, he reached quickly toward his hamstring, but returned to the huddle as a cramp uncorked itself. His fragility has been his detractor during three seasons in the league. On the field for 12 of 14 games this year, Reed has pushed into the upper crust of tight ends.

An ambitious pregame note from the team touted his Pro Bowl candidacy. That’s far-fetched considering the depth of the position, but is telling of his ascending status as a pass-catcher. His seven catches against the Bills pushed his career-high total to 67 with two games to play.

Cousins‘ growth has unified the talents of Jackson and Reed. In the last eight games, Cousins has thrown 16 touchdowns and three interceptions. The home crowd chants his name now instead of a feeling tense when he throws a deep pass. He finished the regular-season portion of the home schedule without throwing an interception in 232 consecutive pass attempts, a team record. Cousins has moved from explaining how he’s fighting for the backup job in training camp to the cusp of the playoffs, chants bolstering him as he enters the Redskins‘ record book.

“That’s the nature of our sport,” Williams said. “It’s a prove yourself sport, nobody’s going to be behind you if you haven’t done anything and everybody wants to see you play. Kirk embraced that, he came out here and showed people what he’s got.”

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