The NFC East has changed, and it’s probably not going to change back soon. The Redskins need to close with victories over the Eagles and Cowboys to be sure of a division crown. Decades of disappointment put their fans in a self-protective fetal position. But it’s not warranted. Not anymore.
After five straight victories, including a sweep of their division, a win over the Ravens and a 329-yard starting debut by rookie backup quarterback Kirk Cousins, the Redskins have assembled most of the hardest pieces of the NFL puzzle — not all of them, but many. And it coalesced in a 30-day blink.
In one draft, they got a franchise quarterback in Robert Griffin III, second in the NFL in passer rating and, in the sixth round of the draft, also stole a franchise running back in Alfred Morris, third in the league in rushing (1,322 yards). If there is such a thing, they probably got a franchise backup quarterback, too, in Cousins. He’s tradeable, keepable and adoreable.
Then they picked up a rookie kicker, Kai Forbath, who has made all 15 field goals he has atempted and may solve that perennial problem. And, despite being whacked with an $18 million salary cap penalty, they acquired a feature wide receiver, Pierre Garcon, who was hurt a month ago but sure isn’t now. Garcon’s not a great, but with 34 catches for 498 in eight starts (half a season), he’s good enough.
One month ago, we didn’t know any of that, except for RGIII’s huge talent. Morris, who’s also third in the league in carries, could have run out of gas. The league could have adjusted to Griffin. Instead, he came back from the bye week and has thrown 10 touchdown passes to one interception.
Cousins might’ve fizzled if forced into duty. Even Mike Shanahan, who spotted him in the fourth round, can’t know for sure until true game speed arrives. Now, he has salvaged an overtime win and hung 38 on the Browns.
The Redskins haven’t won their division in this century. Now, they control their destiny. That’s part of why we love sports. We know just enough to think we know a lot. Then, we learn different. We feel like children: refreshed, surprised, open to possibility and full of wonder.
Cousins is a perfect example. In his first start, he set a Redskins rookie record for passing yardage (329) — breaking a mark (323) Griffin set in September. That’s just magnificently ridiculous — not that Cousins is good enough to do it, but that he does it by just enough, all the tumblers clicking into place for maximum delicious silliness. How will Cousins ever match up to RGIII, we ask? Oh, 329. Where else can being so wrong feel so good?