Kirk Cousins will make his first NFL start at quarterback in place of fellow rookie Robert Griffin III when the Washington Redskins in Cleveland on Sunday against the Browns, the team confirmed Saturday night.
Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie said late Saturday that Cousins will start against the Browns. A person familiar with the situation said a few hours earlier that Griffin would not play in the game because of the sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee that he suffered during last Sunday’s triumph over the Baltimore Ravens at FedEx Field.
If Griffin is on the Redskins’ inactive list for the game, veteran Rex Grossman would back up Cousins.
Griffin wrote Saturday night on Twitter: “The decision was not my own. … But I will be there for my team!!! In every way I possibly can.”
Cousins’s first start comes with the Redskins riding a four-game winning streak that has raised their record to 7-6. They’re in the thick of the NFC playoff chase. The Redskins are one game behind the first-place New York Giants in the NFC East and a game in back of the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card race.
Griffin, who’s tied with New England’s Tom Brady with a league-best passer rating of 104.2, participated in practices during the week on a limited basis. Griffin took part in individual drills and seemed to move well during those portions of the practices that were open to media members.
But the Redskins apparently are wary of risking a more serious injury to Griffin’s knee. Medical experts not involved in the case said early in the week that they wouldn’t be surprised to see the Redskins take a cautious approach and allow Griffin’s knee to heal fully before allowing him to play again.
Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said Monday that Griffin had suffered a Grade 1 sprain of the LCL in his right knee. A Grade 1 sprain is the least severe sprain, and is defined as an injury in which the ligament is merely stretched and not torn in a significant way.
Griffin suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while in college at Baylor in 2009.
He suffered this injury when he was hit by Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata at the end of a run late in the fourth quarter. Griffin’s right leg bent awkwardly on the play. He left the game for one play, being replaced by Cousins, and then returned for four plays before exiting for good.
Cousins threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Pierre Garcon and then ran for a tying two-point conversion with 29 seconds to play. The Redskins won, 31-28, on place kicker Kai Forbath’s overtime field goal. Now Cousins has had a full week to get ready, having taken the snaps with the starting offense during full team drills in practices.
Shanahan said Friday that Cousins had a “good week” of practices.
“He’s been pretty consistent all the way through camp, all the way through all the games we’ve prepared for this season,” Shanahan said Friday.
The Redskins previously had listed Griffin as questionable on their official injury report and had called his availability a game-time decision. Shanahan had said the team’s doctors would be consulted before a decision was made about whether Griffin would play.
Of Cousins, Shanahan said Friday: “He’s got to be prepared to go either way. Any time you get reps, a quarterback has always got to be ready to go. Especially in a situation like this, you have to be prepared mentally to go.”
Cousins also replaced Griffin during an October game against the Atlanta Falcons after Griffin suffered a concussion. Cousins threw a touchdown pass in that game but also threw two interceptions to seal a Redskins loss. Cousins was in line to start a week later against the Minnesota Vikings. But Griffin was cleared to practice and play after undergoing testing, and started the Vikings game.
Now the Redskins must try to win a crucial game with playoff implications minus their candidate for NFL rookie of the year and most valuable player. The Browns are in last place in the AFC North and have a record of 5-8. But they’ve played better lately, with three straight wins. Cousins is to oppose a fellow rookie quarterback in Browns starter Brandon Weeden.
The Redskins have two regular season games remaining after this one, at Philadelphia on Dec. 23 and home against the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 30, and it appears possible that Griffin could return to the lineup for those games.