- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 27, 2017

LANDOVER | They can say it’s just the preseason. You can say it, too, and there are fractions of truth in all the platitudes. There was frustration on the field Sunday, though. To find it, look no further than at Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, crumbling under a stiff-arm from Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict steamrolling into the end zone after a pick-six early in the second quarter.

Starting quarterbacks don’t do that. They don’t run into 248-pound linebackers right by the pylon when the score doesn’t matter. They don’t, that is, unless they have something to prove.

Cousins chose to sacrifice his body after Burfict intercepted his pass intended for running back Chris Thompson in the flat. Cousins was nearly picked off on a similar play in the first quarter, and Burfict read it perfectly the second time. At that point, after going nowhere fast for four straight drives, after a third-straight slow start in a preseason game, Cousins was willing to risk his body.

“I feel like once we cross those lines, whether it’s the preseason or regular season, you just play,” Cousins said.

Coach Jay Gruden said Cousins made the right call.

“To let a guy score a touchdown on our home field is unacceptable, so I’m happy he did that,” Gruden said.

Gruden, too, put it all out there in the 23-17 win. On one play, he asked for a double-reverse screen pass for Chris Thompson. That’s not a preseason call.

Even with the benefits of several scripted calls to start the game, tight end Jordan Reed back on the field and Cincinnati-specific preparation, Cousins’ unit still needed five drives to get moving. The starting offense played the entire first half, plus the first drive of the third quarter, and only looked sharp at times. Cousins finished the game 10-of-19 for 109 yards and the one interception.

“We can’t start like that in the NFL consistently and expect to win a lot of games,” Gruden said.

There were bright notes, one of which was the run game. Rookie center Chase Roullier, starting in place of Spencer Long, who is recovering from meniscus surgery, played well. A good block of his cleared space for a 21-yard run by running back Rob Kelley.

For the first time this preseason, Kelley had space to run, and he gained 57 yards on 10 carries. The Redskins starter scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run up the middle to cap an 85-yard drive, Cousins’ best, after the interception.

Cousins was sacked twice, both times on third down, where the Redskins converted only 4-of-13 opportunities. He held onto the ball too long at times and put himself in position to get sacked when he didn’t step up in the pocket, though pass protection was also poor.

He and receiver Terrelle Pryor still aren’t in sync. Pryor dropped a couple good throws, and finished with one catch on four targets.

The offense was working without receiver Josh Doctson, who was held out because of a lingering effects from a hamstring pull. Reed, in his first preseason game after missing the first two with a sore big toe, caught two six-yard passes and looked fine in limited work. The Redskins may have given the game their best effort in other ways, but they were still careful with Reed.

The defense was gashed and gave up a touchdown on the Bengals’ first drive, but recovered well the rest of the game. The starting defensive line was comprised of Jonathan Allen and Terrell McClain as ends and Phil Taylor Sr. as nose tackle, but Taylor left the game with a left quad injury early and didn’t return and needs an MRI.

Several young players gave the coaching staff things to think about. Cornerback Joshua Holsey had a sack, and undrafted safety Fish Smithson took an interception 63 yards upstream. One not-so-young player flashed, too. Linebacker Junior Galette played in his first game since 2014, and showed some explosiveness.

Kicker Dustin Hopkins also had a good day, going 3-for-3 kicking field goals, including one from 51-yards out.

The starters won’t play the final preseason game in Tampa, so the next time they take the field, it’ll count. They played as if that was the case Sunday, with mixed results.

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