It’s hard to carve a hole in anyone’s head for losing by 10 points or fewer to the Seattle Seahawks. They are the class of the NFL at the moment, their fans don’t fear for their quarterback’s life when he runs the read option, and defensively the Legion of Boom camouflages the warts.
That’s why Washington eventually has to go back to Robert Griffin III as the starter.
Each time Cousins reared and fired Monday night in a 27-17 loss to the Seahawks, in fact, I actually felt for the coach, general manager and owner.
Whether Gruden’s quarterback of the moment hit DeSean Jackson with a deep and picturesque spiral or badly missed Andre Roberts on a routine crossing pattern, anything other than victory and a surging quarterback rating will force the team’s brain trust into bringing back Griffin when he’s healthy.
This isn’t just about trying to win a few football games this year. This is about money and the long-term future at the quarterback position.
Washington has to find out before this offseason if Griffin is worth extending for the fifth year of his contract, which is a team option and would keep him here through the 2016 season, after which he would seek a long-term deal commensurate with his value.
Unless Cousins played lights-out, won games, upset an elite team like Seattle or was at least the lone, 300-yard, three-touchdown bright spot weekly, neither Gruden, Bruce Allen nor Daniel Snyder can give up on the idea that Griffin can still be their guy.
The only way to find out is bringing a completely healthy Griffin back sometime after the bye week in November. If that doesn’t happen, next offseason instantly becomes turbulent for the franchise.
Without a recent body of work, how does anyone commit a large financial sum of one season to a player who might be competing for the starting role at training camp?
If Griffin is not extended, that would be a clear sign the organization is going to let him play out next season in Washington and essentially roll the dice on his future. It would be a sign to Griffin his bosses aren’t sold on him. If you thought any of the drama of the last two and a half years was a bit much, wait till the clandestine social-media messages and body language on off days consumes Ashburn next summer.
Griffin is too prickly to play with financially and otherwise. Washington has to know what it is getting into, and Griffin has to show he belongs here beyond next season when he returns to the field.
This doesn’t dampen Cousins’s contributions and development as a decent NFL starter. He got no protection early against the Seahawks. At one juncture, Morgan Moses at right tackle literally escorted the man he was supposed to be blocking into Cousins’s rib cage.
He fought through some rushed throws to eventually settle down and get into a rhythm. Cousins didn’t lose this game as much as a game plan and a defense that generously gave up yards on the ground and in the air to the Seahawks.
But Washington is going to Arizona on Sunday. I don’t see it winning that game, especially after the Cardinals suffered their first loss of the season to the Broncos on Sunday.
Gruden is looking at 1-5 in an NFC East where his competition somehow keeps winning. However much better Washington played against Seattle than it did in that beatdown at the hands of the Giants, this is starting to look like a lost season of transition.
Cousins has had an uneven run and has yet to win a game as a starter this season.
“I think he played well,” Gruden said afterward. “There are some things that he could have done better, but he came out and competed. He was gun-shy at first but as the game came on he felt the pocket, got in the flow of the game. . . . I thought he played pretty well.”
Given how atrocious he looked a week ago, which included four interceptions, Cousins did play much better. He had a couple of brilliant long balls to Jackson and began to move Washington near the end of the half and in the fourth quarter.
But we’re not talking about giving a rookie experience until he finds his groove and is ready to direct a playoff team. We’re talking about the injury replacement for a 1-4 team that is missing a player who everyone thought would return healthy and productive this season.
Not even Griffin can say he has done enough to warrant management and ownership committing to him beyond next season.
Yes, he’s going to prominently show up during stretching and on the sideline of games just to remind people he still matters, that he wants to show he can be the player who bedazzled a region two years ago.
Those types of decisions to put himself out there will always infuriate his detractors.
But you know what’s worse? Not finding out if he will ever be your franchise quarterback.
Unless Cousins can reel off a string of victories and become that guy, the franchise has a fiduciary responsibility to figure out if Robert Griffin III still is the franchise quarterback.
Any other decision is not thinking long-term and puts Washington in a further quandary next offseason.
A cadre of glass-half-full fans will say this game was indicative of a gritty performance against a superior team. The truth is, the Seahawks win this by three touchdowns or more without committing 13 penalties, including three that took away touchdowns.
Jim Haslett’s defense gave up 225 yards of rushing, Seattle once led 17-0 and never by fewer than a touchdown. And a sparse Landover crowd, especially in the upper decks, was almost trying to find reasons to believe in the second half before that Legion of Swoon defense kicked in again and gave up a clinching score.
Griffin would come back to all of this, of course, but at least we could see if he truly can still make a difference.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.
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