I have enough things to feel guilty about. I feel guilty that I don’t produce enough web copy. I feel guilty that I don’t know all that much about the A-Gap or three-technique or five-spice powder. I feel guilty that my takes aren’t hot. I feel guilty that I look at my phone during family meals and board meetings. I feel guilty that I don’t retweet my colleagues enough, and then I feel mad that they don’t retweet me enough, and then I feel guilty for feeling mad. I feel guilty that I sometimes take two spoonfuls of ice cream straight out of the Moose Tracks container — using the same spoon.
So I didn’t need the Redskins quarterback making me feel guilty at his news conference. Here we are, though. Kirk Cousins might as well have caught me with my spoon in the Moose Tracks.
“I totally understand from covering the team, fan base perspective, the emotional roller-coaster: I understand that a two-minute drill on the road against a good football team, finding a way to win — it’s exciting and it’s fun and it gets the juices going,” Cousins said this week. “I’m a little bit more process-oriented.”
People in the sporting arena are supposed to be slavishly devoted to the scoreboard, while wise and passion-free outsiders who study philosophy and literature and listen to WETA while watching Redskins Nation should be mature enough to make more rational, process-based observations. Thus, Capitals hockey players should talk about how they just didn’t want it enough in a game when they hit the post 17 times and their opponent scored a goal that was misdirected by a roving swarm of locusts, whereas wise observers should remember that chance and bad luck are not character flaws, and that everything in the universe evens out in the end, even if “Washington Capitals Playoff Games” is a category that thus far has resisted that natural law.
Sorry. Sidetracked. Anyhow, this is the point: In two games this season, the Redskins went on the road against better-than-average opponents in louder-than-average stadiums while playing with more-injured-than-average rosters. In both of those games, the Redskins took an early lead. In both of those games, they relinquished those leads, and seemed entirely toasted. In both of those games, Cousins then led improbable late-game drives that culminated in deep passes down the left sideline to Josh Doctson, who both times had an opportunity to make a high-degree-of-difficulty catch that would put his team in position to take an unlikely lead.
Against the Chiefs, Doctson dropped the ball. Against the Seahawks, he caught it. Against the Chiefs, the Redskins’ defense then gave up a last-minute drive, and Washington lost. Against the Seahawks, the Redskins’ defense stopped a last-minute drive, and Washington won. The Chiefs game became a data point for the “Kirk Cousins isn’t quite good enough to win big games” folks. The Seattle game became a data point for the “Kirk Cousins is the truth” crowd. And maybe the conclusions didn’t really have all that much to do with Kirk Cousins.
“There have been games where I’ve thrown for a lot of yards and felt like I played nearly flawlessly, but we lost,” he went on. “And I walk away saying, ‘I’m getting better; I’m doing really good things. I’m about the process, and my process was really good today. I can’t control the outcome, but the process was really good.’
“But the noise on the outside is, ‘He’s got to get better; he’s not doing enough; we didn’t come away with the win,’ ” Cousins said, accurately. “So I’ve learned to ignore outcomes at times. I’ve learned to ignore the noise on the outside and just focus on the process.”
Wow? I want Alex Ovechkin to go to a podium in May and say, “I’ve learned to ignore outcomes at times.” Or Marvin Lewis in January. Or Mike Rizzo in October. The Nats had a really good process this year, and then a veteran catcher had the worst defensive inning of his life, and an MLB umpire made a call that the league admitted was wrong, and a backup catcher with the speed of a land slug got picked off first base, and a veteran left fielder lost a ball in the lights, and telling disappointed fans “We’re just going to ignore the outcome and focus on the process” goes over about as well as $20 beers and $60 parking.
Athletes don’t often admit they played better in a loss than in a win, that focusing on the outcome won’t give you a true picture, because winning isn’t everything it’s the only thing and show me a gracious loser and I’ll show you a failure and scoreboard, scoreboard, scoreboard, scoreboard, scoreboard, scoreboard, scoreboard.
If Cousins played flawlessly but lost in the Super Bowl, our national consensus would be pfffffffft, you lost. And if he and his teammates made a lot of mistakes through three-and-a-half Super Bowl quarters but then had a great finish filled with character and resiliency and victory, the celebration wouldn’t pause to apologize. Instead, Washingtonians would allow outcome-focused feelings to creep in, and then they’d bathe in those outcome-focused feelings, and then they’d fill gravy boats with outcome-focused feelings and pour them down the backs of strangers on 14th Street, and then they’d light the sky over the Washington Monument with giant neon letters reading O-U-T-C-O-M-E F-O-C-U-S-E-D F-E-E-L-I-N-G-S.
Of course, for Cousins, the issue was also about his own play: He wasn’t great in Seattle, so he doesn’t want to use one four-play drive as a positive measuring stick. He’s played well in losses, so he doesn’t want to use the scoreboard to judge his progress. We should probably do the same, and we all sort of know that. I know that, anyhow, but I still get sucked into emotional responses when the team gets two turnovers and two great passes and wins. I still write positive stories if the result is good, and negative stories if the result is bad.
And now I feel guilty about it. Thanks a lot, Kirk. Hope you feel good about that outcome.