Washington went into Cleveland in the middle of a highly competitive playoff chase; tied based on record with rival the Dallas Cowboys and behind another rival, the New York Giants by one game. Losing in Cleveland wouldn’t have been damming but would have made Washington’s playoff chances highly unlikely. A win would keep them in the hunt and a win and a loss by the Giants or Cowboys would have placed the Redskins in sole possession of first place within the division.
With so much on the line and RG3 sidelined because of a sprained knee, the burden fell on Cousin’s shoulders to fill in for the franchise quarterback. Cousin’s first start began a little shaky. After a penalty induced three-and-out on Washington’s first possession, Cousins was picked off by t. Ward after his pass intended for Pierre Garcon was tipped. Cleveland returned the ball inside the Redskins 10-yard-line. Cleveland rookie Trent Richardson would put his team on the scoreboard first, rushing into the endzone from six yards out to put Washington in a 7-0 hole.
Cousins would shake off the pick and connect with Leonard Hankerson on first down a few possessions later for a 54-yard touchdown.
"I talked to him about being cool, calm and collected and not to freak out," Griffin said. "He did a good job of staying poised and staying confident in there."
The play action fake that sprung Hankerson free became a staple throughout the game. Much of the credit for the success of the Redskins attack belongs to rookie running back Alfred Morris and the Washington offensive line. Morris, who wasn’t going to be outdone by childhood rival and third overall selection in this year’s draft, Richardson, ran 26 times for 82 yards and two touchdowns. Morris’ two touchdowns put him at nine for the season which is a Redskins rookie record. Morris is now third in the NFL in rushing with 1,322 rushing yards.
"They would have been doing all the same things, with the addition of the option if RG III was in the game," Cleveland head coach Pat Shurmur said. "That looked like the Redskins offense. I'd like to credit Kirk. He did a nice job."
Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon holds up the football in celebration after recovering a Santana Moss fumble. courtesy of Brian Murphy/http://www.flickr.com/photos/the5holes
But the Browns, who came into Sunday afternoon’s matchup on a three-game winning streak, would not go away. After Washington went up 10-7 on a Kai Forbath field goal, Richardson (11 carries for 28 yards and two touchdowns) would score his second touchdown putting the Browns up 14-10 at halftime.
Washington’s 29th ranked defense came up with the play of the game to open the third quarter. Rob Jackson intercepted a Brandon Weeden pass and returned it to the Cleveland 15-yard-line. Morris was able to get in for his first score a few plays later. The Redskins offense then caught fire scoring 14 points in both the third and fourth quarters. Cousins connected with Hankerson for the second time followed by two more scores on the ground from the league’s leading rushing attack.
29-year-old rookie quarterback Weeden (21-of-35 for 244 yards and a touchdown) would throw his only touchdown in the game early in the fourth to bring the Browns to within 31-2, but another Morris touchdown would seal the convincing victory.
Washington has now won five straight games and has moved into first place in the NFC East. The Redskins 8-6 record puts them in the final playoff spot just ahead of the 8-6 Giants and Cowboys who lose tiebreakers to the Redskins.
"We're in first place in our division now, and it was a great business trip for us," said a none-too-pleased to be sidelined Griffin. "I got healthier by not playing; we won the game and put ourselves in position to control our own destiny."
Although Griffin practiced all week, Coach Mike Shanahan informed him that he and team doctors felt it best that he rest and that Cousins would be given the start.
"It was good to have a definitive answer, but I've been preparing to go all season as if I had to play knowing I'm one play away." said Cousins, who got the win in his first NFL start. "This isn't my first rodeo. I did play a lot of football in the Big Ten.”
Washington next goes into Philadelphia to take on the reeling last place 4-10 Eagles while the Cowboys take on the 6-8 New Orleans Saints and the Giants face AFC North leading 9-5 Baltimore Ravens.