- - Sunday, October 15, 2017


LANDOVER — When did San Francisco 49ers coach and former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan make his case at FedEx Field Sunday to Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins to come play for him next year?

He made that case when, down 14-0 more than halfway through the second quarter, he brought in a third-round draft pick who had just one NFL snap to date to play quarterback, replacing starter Brian Hoyer, and the rookie nearly pulled off a remarkable upset, driving the 49ers to within 10 yards or so of a last-gasp winning field goal.

Shanahan’s case goes like this: “Kirk, I nearly just beat your heavily favored team on the road with a kid fresh out of college who had barely stepped on an NFL football field.

“Imagine what the two of us can do together.”

Oh, did I mention the kid was C.J. Beathard — the grandson of the Hall of Fame former general manager and architect of Redskins Super Bowl champion teams, Bobby Beathard?

That’s all this town would have needed, after the Washington Nationals’ ugly exit from the National League Division Series in Game 5 Thursday night at Nationals Park — a loss to the hated Kyle Shanahan, who Redskins fans were convinced got his job because his father Mike Shanahan was head coach from 2010 to 2013. A loss to a winless team led by former Redskins like Pierre Garcon and Aldrick Robinson. A loss to the grandson of Bobby Beathard.

It would have been a bucket full of salt on the wounds this town suffered when it desperately need a salve.

As it was, the win — perhaps saved by a last minute offensive pass interference call against Garcon that put the 49ers out of field goal range — was hardly a magic ointment. Washington is 3-2, but you had to feel better about this team after their competitive loss to the powerful Chiefs in Kansas City two weeks ago on Monday Night Football than Sunday’s desperation win against winless San Francisco.

Coach Jay Gruden says that’s growth. “You start feeling better about your team when you’re not as happy after a win as you normally should be,” he said. “But you have to understand that this is a great competitive sport, the National Football League. Everybody has great players.”

Well, if everybody has great players, then I guess it comes down to coaching, doesn’t it?

The game was secondary to the main event — the return of Shanahan, who has had a well-documented mutual football love affair with Cousins ever since his father drafted him in the fourth round in Washington in 2012.

When asked about Cousins — who, as is well known, playing on his second one-year franchise tag contract, played, Kyle responded, “I really didn’t watch much of Kirk.”

He didn’t have to. He’s seen enough. He’ll wait until he sees him in a 49ers uniform to watch.

If it was a coaching battle between the two sideline bosses for the heart of Cousins, Kyle, the first-year head coach, may have won by decision. His team was on its way to a 17-0 beating near the end of the second quarter when he made the change to Beathard and made adjustments that caught Gruden off guard for much of the rest of game.

What was the play that saved Gruden?

A Mike Shanahan/Kyle Shanahan read option special, the eight-yard scamper by Cousins with less than four minutes left in the game to give Washington the 26-17 lead — the game winner, since Beathard came back two minutes later and hit Robinson with a 45-yard touchdown pass to make it a 26-24 game.

“I credit going back to my rookie year here with Robert (Griffin III) here, we did it a lot,” Cousins said, talking about the read option play that he ran for the score. “It’s always going to be part of our offense because it does give defenses something to think about.

Kyle told me when he left, he said, ‘I learned after working with Robert that this is a really valuable play no matter who the quarterback is, and will always carry it with me. So when Jay arrived, we kept it … you have to be smart and call it at the right time.”

Kyle. He was never far from Cousins‘ mind.

I asked Cousins if he thought the young 49ers coach had given his team “the book” on him — what to look for from the quarterback, and Cousins smiled. “I was aware of that possibility,” he said. “This offense has evolved and a lot of nuances have changed through the years where I think it would be harder for him to know a lot of our X’s and O’s or how we do things or how I’m coached after this many years have passed.

“He certainly knows what quarterbacks need to do and not do and I’m sure he got them prepared as well as they could, but ultimately the just have to go and play,” Cousins said. “I guess he wouldn’t believe in me too much if he thought he could just tell them something and then I was no longer effective.”

No, Kyle Shanahan believes in Cousins — and if Cousins had any doubts about Shanahan as a head coach, he may have answered them Sunday with C.J. Beathard.

⦁ Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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