For the Washington Redskins’ new coordinators, remade defensive coaching staff and largely retooled roster, Sunday’s high-stakes season-opener against the NFC East rival Philadelphia Eagles represents a chance to make a strong first impression.
For quarterback Kirk Cousins, it represents a chance to turn the page on a last impression that has haunted him the past eight months.
Cousins’ final throw of the 2016 season sealed the Redskins’ 19-10 New Year’s Day loss to the New York Giants — an interception with just over a minute to play in a must-win game.
With Washington trailing, 13-10, Cousins felt pressure on first down, slid to his left and heaved the ball to wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who was closely covered by cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. It was an extremely high-risk decision, and Cousins’ throw was a bit behind, making it easy work for Rodgers-Cromartie, who’d picked off Cousins in the third quarter when his intended target lost his footing on the 5-yard line.
“A backbreaker for the Redskins!” Fox commentator Joe Buck said on the broadcast. “That could very well end the year for Washington.”
It was, and it did. With the loss, the Redskins finished 8-7-1 and were shut out of the playoffs by an NFC East rival that, having already secured its own playoff berth, arguably had little to play for. And it gave Cousins plenty to think about — and answer for — in the eight months since.
Cousins reflected on the sequence and the lessons learned in an interview as he prepared for his third season as the Redskins’ starter.
The first interception hasn’t weighed on him nearly as much. His thinking was sound, but receiver Maurice Harris slipped.
“I walked to the sideline and said, ‘Guys, I’m gonna throw that pass 10 times out of 10. I saw a window. I thought he was open,’” Cousins recalled. “If we played it again, I’d say to them again, ‘I think he’s open.’ Not to mention Maurice has a really unique trait of coming back to the football and attacking the football and making him friendly to throw it to.”
The second interception “was 100 percent on me,” the quarterback acknowledged.
“There were so many other things I could have done in that situation — first and 10, 10 yards from field goal range, all we needed was a field goal to tie,” Cousins recalled, “But I wanted the touchdown, being that it’s first and 10, with plenty of time on the clock. There was absolutely no need to throw a ball into a tighter window. Even if you had thrown it more accurately, it’s still too tight to risk what could happen. So that’s a classic mistake.”
If it upset fans, it was more upsetting to Cousins, who has worked hard to reduce his turnover percentage since being named the Redskins starter. He finished 2016 with 25 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 97.2 passer rating.
As Cousins explained: “Many times when I get in trouble on the football field, it’s because I’m trying to do too much. I’m trying to fix it all on one play. I’m trying to throw it and catch it. I’m trying to carry everything, and (left tackle) Trent Williams will remind me, ‘Kirk you’re just one of 11. You trust us. We’ve got your back. Don’t feel like you’ve got to do so much. That’s when you’re not going to enjoy it, and you’re going to get yourself in trouble.’
“Obviously as I’ve played longer, I’ve gotten better at knowing how to manage the game and not do too much. That second interception was a great example of trying to do too much. It was a mistake that as a professional quarterback, you can’t make it. You can’t do it. All I can do is learn from and try to make sure I get better in those moments.”