Kirk Cousins’ latest audition leaves Denver impressed, reveals growth

LANDOVER, Md. — The tradition started a year ago, when Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins’ wife packed him a gaudy, forest green Christmas suit. It featured gingerbread men and lights and candy canes. He donned it after a win in Chicago; he broke it out again Sunday after beating the Denver Broncos. An extra regular suit was packed, just in case.

“There aren’t many occasions you can wear this for,” Cousins said. “This is about the only place this will work. I really like it. They wanted me to show it off.”

Showing off — or possibly auditioning — is what Cousins has been doing the last two games in wins over Arizona and Denver. Both need a quarterback next season and are prime examples of what can go wrong without one.

Cousins threw for 299 yards, three touchdowns and an interceptions in the Redskins’ 27-11 win over Denver on Sunday. In the last two games, Cousins has thrown five touchdown passes and one interception. Cousins has proven who he is as a quarterback and it’s either good enough or it isn’t; they’re willing to hit a certain amount or they’re not.

"A lot of teams would literally kill to have a quarterback like that," Denver linebacker Von Miller said. "The list is long."

Cousins will have options; the question will be whether they’re better options than Washington (7-8). If not, then he’d be as likely to sign whatever tag they have here — be it franchise or transition — and return for another season. Cousins has shown he’s comfortable playing on lucrative, one-year deals.

Yes, Denver needs a quarterback and there were Broncos fans in attendance Sunday holding up signs trying to woo Cousins. The problem is, would Denver be a better situation for Cousins? The Broncos have a terrific defense and a good quarterback would make a tremendous difference.

However, a lot depends on the direction they take offensively. Do they stick with interim offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave or hire someone else? Cousins will not go there just because he might be a final piece. The ability to build and win consistently matters, as does the relationship with the offensive coordinator.

Experience matters

But if Denver — and anyone else — was paying attention, they have seen growth in Cousins’ game. Flash back before he became the permanent starter; the knock on him was he couldn’t overcome adversity. But, he just spent an entire season doing that.

Look at the top players Washington has been without on offense: left tackle Trent Williams, tight end Jordan Reed and running back Chris Thompson. Once upon a time that would have sunk them; it has not. Cousins’ growth has helped. With a good finale, Cousins could top 4,200 passing yards and might reach 30 touchdown passes.

Sunday, he shook off early missed throws – an underthrow here; an overthrow there. He shook off a couple drops. He shook off a bad interception.

“The more experience you get, the more comfortable you get and the more you understand adversity is going to take place in the course of a game and the season,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “He’s handled it extremely well.”

There was the forced interception in the end zone — he threw into triple coverage, a flashback to his younger days. But he responded, with a field-goal drive and two touchdown passes. He continued to make enough plays off schedule — surely, Denver president John Elway recognized growth in this area. On his last touchdown pass, Cousins, with a defender in his face, hit tight end Vernon Davis in stride.

“Those are the plays I’m getting better at making,” Cousins said.

Tom Brady’s words helped

One reason Cousins has gone from a fourth-round pick to a guy who will be in demand after the season stems from how he analyzes his own game. He focused in the offseason on learning to extend plays. He’ll never be an Elway, but he has helped himself a number of times with improved mobility or, rather, an increased awareness. He’s picked the brain of many quarterbacks, from Drew Brees to Tom Brady.

In fact, when asked Sunday about improving his ability to read coverages, Cousins relayed a conversation he had with Brady after a 2015 game. Cousins didn’t feel it was clicking yet for him.

“I said, ‘When did it start clicking for you?’” Cousins said. “And he said, ‘It’s still clicking.’ His point was that there was never one moment where suddenly it just turned the page and he had it all figured out.”

It’s about the accumulation of knowledge, Cousins said.

“Over three years, my knowledge has accumulated,” Cousins said. “I’ve been able to be out there and gain experience and play. Now I have a lot of games in my bank account that I can lean on and use those experiences to help me play better as I go forward.”

The question, of course, focuses on where it will be. For now, it’s here. As he left the locker room, he stopped to ask a few reporters about their Christmas plans. Then he exited to be with his family — his parents were in town — and three-month old son.

Another audition awaits next week in the season finale at the New York Giants.

“It would be great to get him back,” Redskins receiver Jamison Crowder said. “He has a great connection with all the receivers in the room as well as a lot of guys on our team. It would definitely be great to get him back. I’ve never been in a situation where a new quarterback has come in. It would be like starting over. If he could come back, that would be awesome.”

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