LANDOVER — Kirk Cousins did not wither in the face of adversity.
The Washington Redskins quarterback did not steer the offense straight when it most desperately needed to be corrected, either.
The result was a hard-fought, 17-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins at FedEx Field on Sunday — an effort that signaled improvement from last year, but wasn’t enough to get over the hump and grind out a victory.
Cousins went 21-for-31 for 196 yards with a touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Reed and two interceptions.
There were good moments, particularly when Cousins engineered a 17-play, 88-yard touchdown drive to give the Redskins a 10-0 lead in the second quarter despite throwing an interception on the previous drive.
Yet there were also bad moments at the wrong times — the types of miscues that don’t look so rough on a standalone basis, but compounded to produce a bitter loss.
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With 7:40 to go in the fourth quarter and the Redskins trailing, 17-10, Cousins aimed for Pierre Garcon down the left sideline, targeting the receiver’s one-on-one matchup with cornerback Brice McCain.
McCain broke up the pass and somehow secured the interception as he fell out of bounds at the Miami two-yard line.
After the Redskins defense came up with a stop, Cousins and the Redskins got another chance with five minutes remaining.
On the first play from the 31-yard line, Cousins spotted Garcon in another one-on-one matchup and threw a ball that was dangerously close to being intercepted, but fell incomplete. A healthy balance of Alfred Morris and quick passes to Andre Roberts and Garcon helped the Redskins get to the red zone and presented one last chance to keep the game alive.
Facing fourth-and-7 from the Miami 20-yard line, Cousins’ pass for tight end Reed was well short and hit the hands of Dolphins safety Walt Aikens.
It was a broken play that resulted from miscommunication than anything else. Miami defensive end Terrence Fede rushed at Cousins untouched, forcing the Redskins’ quarterback to hurry the pass in Reed’s direction, who did not his route properly, according to coach Jay Gruden.
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The play punctuated the loss, leaving Cousins and the Redskins longing for a different result as they walked off the field.
“We battled and came up short,” said Cousins. “I guess we’re all pretty tired of that around here. We’ve done that too many times. So, eventually, the tables need to turn, the tides need to turn. We need a day like today to end up having us be on top at the end and we’re going to keep working. I was encouraged by what I saw today and I think if we keep doing that this rock is going to break here, eventually.”
The Redskins’ strength lies in their running game, and it showed on Sunday as they racked up 161 yards on the ground — the type of success that can take pressure off the quarterback.
Cousins does not need to be spectacular to guide the Redskins’ offense this season, he just needs to be sufficient, which is something he repeated frequently in the week leading up to the game.
For most of the first half he was, completing 10 of 14 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown.
In the second quarter, facing third and 18 from the Redskins’ 12-yard line, cornerback Brent Grimes intercepted Cousins’ pass for Reed.
As Cousins scrambled and pushed the play to the right side, Reed broke up field. When Cousins threw the ball to the sideline, Reed wasn’t looking back at the play.
But the poise Cousins displayed on the following drive was what the Redskins hoped to see when Gruden named him the starter late last month. He completed five of six passes on that 17-play drive, capped by a four-yard touchdown to Reed.
Cousins made his 15th career start on Sunday and it was his seventh game with two or more interceptions.
In the past, he’s admitted to committing turnovers when trying too hard to make up for previous transgressions.
That wasn’t exactly the case on Sunday.
Yes, the turnovers were still there, but there was a feeling of putting a step forward in the right direction following the loss.
“We moved the football,” Cousins said. “We just had some drives stall in the high red zone or the strike zone. As I said, there’s a lot of takeaways that make you feel optimistic and make you feel like we’ve got some good pieces in place. It’s going to be about building upon it and trusting that if we just keep pushing, good things will happen.”