Foles, Cousins join in on rookie QB fun

Posted Dec. 07, 2012 @ 12:42 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

And now playing the role of Robert Griffin III … Kirk Cousins.

Incredible that the Redskins might be turning over their playoff hopes to Cousins, not Griffin following a brutal hit on RG3’s unprotected right leg as he scrambled for 13 yards just inside the two-minute warning.

Griffin has shown more maturity and toughness this season than almost any rookie I ever can remember. He played four more plays after getting hurt before it became clear he needed to come out.

And to think some people wondered if the Redskins drafting Cousins would hurt RG3’s ego … or something.

Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen for Executives of the Decade. First Griffin, then Cousins in Round Four, then Alfred Morris in Round Six … and Richard Crawford in Round Seven? All in one draft class? Brilliant. Back to (some of) them in a moment.

You can keep the list of impressive rookie quarterbacks churning: Griffin, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Russell Wilson were not enough. Nick Foles and Cousins had to steal the thunder in Week 14.

We’ve never seen a rookie QB season like this. Never. Poor Ryan Lindley. Can we see Brock Osweiler when the Broncos rest Peyton Manning in Week 17, please?

Cousins, standing on a chilly, rainy sideline all day, had to crank up his warmup throws and come in for Griffin with the Redskins trailing by eight points with 1:42 remaining. Earlier in the season, Griffin was knocked out against the Falcons with a vicious hit on a scramble, and Cousins fired a 77-yard TD pass to give the Redskins the lead, but two later picks undid him.

On Sunday, he had only one drive to prove himself. The star quarterback was on the sideline, barely able to put weight on his injured right leg. Cousins barely had time to analyze what the stakes were, considering there were 60 yards to go.

"I came in and just tried to take a look at the situation,” Cousins said afterwards.

Look, he did. Conquer, too. But it was a bizarre sequence of events.

Cousins missed on a third-down slant to Pierre Garcon, but pass interference by Ravens DB Chris Johnson gave the Redskins a first down on the Washington 47.

Griffin came back in and gamely hit Santana Moss on a crossing pattern for 15 yards and Garcon for 22 more two plays later. But it was obvious Griffin was unable to move and couldn’t continue after he was flagged for intentional grounding.

“I screamed,” Griffin admitted, “like a man, of course.”

Of course.

(Re-) enter Cousins. He made a 2nd-and-20 a manageable 3rd-and-5 with a 15-yard hookup with Leonard Hankerson amid pressure, and then Cousins hit Garcon for the score on a beautifully lofted ball while being flushed out of the pocket.

That made it a two-point game with 29 seconds left. The call for the two-point conversion — a five-wide quarterback draw — had to surprise Cousins, as if maybe the Redskins’ coaches had not turned off RG3 mode. Nope — it was intended as such. The Redskins spread the field, and though a draw is common in those situations, Cousins sold the fake well, took two steps backward, let the blocks develop and trotted in for the game-tying score.

After a Ravens punt and a 64-yard return by Crawford, Cousins’ work in OT was pretty easy: handoff, handoff, handoff, give way to the FG unit and get out of there with a win. Potentially costly? Yes, with Griffin’s injury, even though he said after the game he didn’t think it was an ACL (“I know what those feel like,” he said, having suffered a torn one at Baylor), and an MRI confirmed his hunch. Most impressively, RG3 walked away without crutches and said that he was going to play next week. We'll see about that, but Cousins' performance surely will calm the Redskins' nerves if they need him in Cleveland in Week 15.

It has been previously decided that Foles would play out the rest of the Eagles' season. And he’s playing as if the Eagles are in the playoff hunt. He was composed and exceptionally tough, even as the game against the Buccaneers appeared to be slipping through his fingers. Foles was sacked six times behind a sad-sack offensive line, including once that put him on his own 32-yard line, facing a 3rd-and-14, at the two-minute warning down 21-16.

Foles had led an inspired eight-play, 72-yard TD drive minutes earlier, but the Eagles looked tired. They were down their starting running back (LeSean McCoy), deep-threat receiver (DeSean Jackson) and starting tight end (Brent Celek), all of whom were out with injuries. Mostly, though, that offensive line — down four-fifths of its projected starters this season — looked cooked.

Foles, though, wasn’t done. He was going to guide this team that hadn’t won since five weeks before the election and hadn’t won on the road since Week One. Foles hit Jeremy Maclin for 23 huge yards to convert the first down, then hit Maclin again for nine yards on 3rd-and-10.

A Foles sneak gained three yards and set up the defining sequence of the game. First, Foles spiked the ball on first down like a veteran and had the Buccaneers’ shell-shocked defense on its heels — they had 12 men on the field on the play. He tried twice to find Riley Cooper and once to Marvin McNutt, former fifth- and sixth-round picks, respectively, with a combined 39 career receptions, to no avail.

It was 4th-and-5 from the Bucs’ 23-yard line when Foles stepped back and ripped a pass to Jason Avant in between three defenders, tackled down at the 1-yard line. Foles calmly got his players up to the line, in place and spiked it with two seconds. No problem. Timeout, Bucs, who suddenly were the ones reeling.

On the Eagles’ sideline, Foles suggested a play — "Q8 Solid Sidewinder," it’s called — that isolated Maclin on undrafted free-agent CB Leonard Johnson. When you’re 3-9, your coaches are willing to listen to suggestions from rookie QBs. Foles rolled right, fired to Maclin, who landed on his can (inbounds) and essentially roasted the Bucs’ playoff chances

It was the third rookie-thrown walk-off TD this season with no time on the clock, joining Luck and Wilson. The Eagles love their rookie quarterback, even if they only will have him another few weeks.

“Guts, heart, smarts,” Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg texted after the Eagles’ charter flight landed back in Philadelphia. “Far from perfect, but got it done.”

Passed on from the inimitable Reuben Frank on Twitter: In the final 7:15 of the game, Foles passed for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Wow. It was his first career win, and one he will remember for a long time, even if he is the Eagles’ starter next season and makes everyone forget about the horrible disappointments of the past two seasons.

The fact that Cousins and Foles helped their teams win games was story enough. But the fact that the kids — Luck, Griffin, Wilson, all of them seemingly — have been doing it the way they have, at the ends of games, is just stupendous.

Lame-duck coaches? Not Sunday

We don’t know the fates of the Chargers’ Norv Turner, the Panthers’ Ron Rivera or the Eagles’ Reid. But let’s face it: They’re probably not buying real estate anytime soon.

All of that was forgotten Sunday, however. In this any-given-Sunday type of season, all three coached with abandon, heart and emotion. All three won and — for the time being — got to put aside all the talk of hot seats and replacements and the like.

But sadly, their teams played the kind of ball that we have begging of them for some time now. To wit:

The Chargers faking a punt (and converting) from their own 28-yard line late in the third quarter.

The Panthers throwing (and throwing aggressively) with a 10-point lead, not going into a protective, conservative shell.

The Eagles scrapping the wide-9 and finding a way to contain the Buccaneers’ dangerous passing game.

A report surfaced late last week that Turner and GM A.J. Smith were toast. A subsequent quote from Dean Spanos said no decision has been made. Judge it how you might. It still doesn’t look good. But it reminds us that Turner is no joke as a coach. In fact, I’ll probably have him on my early Assistant Coach of the Year watch list for whatever team signs him as their offensive coordinator next season.

Rivera — did he save his job? Maybe one game didn’t do it. But thrashing the Falcons was big. It reminded us that the Panthers, even down several defensive players and with their fourth and fifth safeties by game’s end, are capable of big performances. Rivera was emotional after the game, saying he gave the game ball to Thomas Davis (seven tackles, huge interception to ice it in the fourth quarter), thinking back to how Davis convinced Rivera that he deserved a contract this season. If the Panthers win two of their last three (including games against the Chargers, Saints and Raiders, all with losing records), Rivera might have done enough, depending on the new GM.

But Reid? It probably would take a miracle, or a kind holiday heart from owner Jeffrey Lurie. But if Foles keeps clicking like he was Sunday (and in the loss to the Cowboys), the thought might be that with McCoy, Jackson, Maclin, Celek, Bryce Brown and a complete offensive line, maybe Lurie is convinced Reid and his coaching staff (perhaps with some changes) are still the answer.

Here’s a bold prediction: One of these three coaches will get a chance to return next season.