- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2015

It was the type of throw most quarterbacks would want back — the type of throw a coach never wants to see.

With 3:57 to play in the third quarter of Thursday’s 32-21 loss to the New York Giants, Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins rolled to his right, fired a pass to tight end Derek Carrier in the middle of the field and watched helplessly as it was batted into the air and intercepted at the Giants’ 27-yard line.

The Redskins were trailing the Giants, 18-6, and had worked their way to the Giants’ 34-yard line before Cousins‘ turnover brought the drive to a deflating end.

“He should have never thrown the ball across the body like that on first-and-10 in the red zone area fringe,” coach Jay Gruden said on Friday.

At this stage of Cousins‘ development, these are the types of lumps the Redskins will have to endure if they want to see the fourth-year quarterback make progressions as the team’s starter.

After falling behind 12-0 in the first quarter and 15-6 at halftime, the Redskins were forced to abandon the run, with just five of their 20 carries after the break. The defense, unable to get consistent pressure on Giants quarterback Eli Manning, did not play like it did when it held opponents to just 10 points in each of the previous two games.

As a result, the Redskins needed Cousins to carry the offense, and Thursday’s game indicated he’s not capable of doing that just yet. Cousins completed 30 of 49 passes for 316 yards, a touchdown and the two interceptions, resulting in a 69.8 passer rating.

Once the game plan broke down, Cousins was a departure from the efficient game manager he was in last Sunday’s 24-10 victory against the St. Louis Rams, when he completed 23 of 27 passes for 203 yards.

The Redskins‘ first possession on Thursday ended with a blocked punt that resulted in a safety for the Giants. It was imperative for the Washington offense to move the chains on their next possession to curb the Giants’ momentum.

That drive lasted two plays.

Facing second-and-6 from his own 10-yard line, Cousins‘ pass, intended for Pierre Garcon, was intercepted by Prince Amukamara. The cornerback jumped the route and made a play commended afterward by both Cousins and Gruden — but it was a turnover nonetheless.

Four plays later, the Giants scored a touchdown.

“He’s going to have to play through some of these pitfalls, so to speak,” Gruden said. “We’re hoping that he does. We’re hoping that a more mature Kirk Cousins will bounce back from these performances. You know, he did some great things in the game, no question about it, but there were some plays that he needs to make to be a starting quarterback in the National Football League — and he will make [them].

“We’ve just got to have some patience, understand that there are going to be some rough times with a young quarterback, but he’s also got to understand he can’t put his team at risk and protect the ball a little bit better. But, moving forward, we’re going to see how it plays out. We’re hoping he has a big bounce-back game against Philadelphia and recovers like good quarterbacks do.”

In Week 2, the Redskins kept the Rams’ defense honest with an effective rushing attack, which ultimately took the pressure off Cousins and the passing game. Cousins got rid of the ball quickly and moved the chains when the Redskins needed yards — most notably on the team’s game-sealing series, where he completed two passes to convert third downs that kept the drive alive.

That, of course, is the type of performance the Redskins want to see from Cousins moving forward.

Cousins‘ transgressions were not the sole factor in Thursday’s loss, yet on a night where seemingly everything went wrong for the Redskins, they needed sharper decision-making from the quarterback to steady the waves.

Instead, they got a third-quarter interception that sent the Redskins hurtling toward a shipwreck.

“Who we saw tonight, that’s who Kirk Cousins is,” Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, now a television analyst, said on the NFL Network postgame show.

“When you need them to carry a team when things are not going right, can you make throws and can you lead your team? I don’t know if Kirk Cousins can do that.”

Those are sobering words.

The Redskins hope Cousins can learn from the mistakes he made on Thursday and turn the corner. Gruden, in particular, was convinced that he was not the same quarterback who threw 10 touchdown passes and had nine interceptions in six games last season.

Cousins is determined to move on, too.

“Where I’ll grow is realizing, ‘OK, it’s first-and-10, I break the pocket, just throw the ball out of bounds,’” Cousins said after Thursday’s loss. “You can call it whatever you want — trying to do too much, or forcing it, or whatever. I’m just trying to find a completion and throw it to somebody and find a safe spot, but again, the bounce goes up, and when it hangs in the air as long as it did, it’s easy to intercept, so you know, stuff like that is just — the part that I can control, where I can look at myself, is to say, ‘Just throw it out of bounds.’”
At the start of the season, Gruden said the Redskins noticed a different demeanor in the quarterback, a player, “starting to take the next step.”

On Thursday, the results were all the same, but Cousins will have more chances to prove they can be different. The Redskins have no intention of changing course just yet.

“We’re just going to have to continue to harp on him and coach him up,” Gruden said. “There’s too many good things going on with Kirk and his progression for us to pull the plug right now because he threw an interception or two.”

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