For the first time since 1999, the Washington Redskins sit atop the NFC East in December. They did it by grabbing a huge 38-21 win on the raod with a fourth round rookie quarterback making his first NFL start. Kirk Cousins delivered two TD passes and threw for 329 yards to lead the Redskins to their fifth consecutive win and improve to 8-6. So what do the Monday morning media pundits have to say? We will show you.
John Clayton, Last Call, ESPN
The Redskins have turned around a 3-6 start and now stake claim to the NFC East lead after their 38-21 victory over the Cleveland Browns. The Cowboys gutted out an overtime victory over the Steelers to create the three-way tie with the Redskins and Giants. This is the first time since 1999 that the Redskins are in first place this late in the season.
The Redskins play at Philadelphia and host Dallas in the final two weeks. The Cowboys host New Orleans next week and finish in Washington. The Giants play at Baltimore next week and host Philadelphia in the final week. The biggest surprise has been the Giants, who fell to third place in the tiebreaker because of a 2-3 record in NFC East games. The Redskins have the tiebreaker because of a 3-1 divisional record.
"We didn't play well, we didn't stop the run, we didn't do anything consistently on offense," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
Dan Graziano, NFL East Blog, ESPN
There was a lot driving the Redskins on this day. The announcement Saturday night that Cousins was getting his first career start because Griffin's knee hadn't healed enough to let him play made everybody sit up and take notice. Cofield said the defense used that announcement as a "rallying cry," convincing itself it had to play its best game of the season in case the backup quarterback couldn't deliver the same kind of offensive performance the starter's been delivering all year.
And while this was all happening, while the Redskins were handling the part of the playoff-fate equation that was in their hands, they knew what was going on in Atlanta. By the time their game ended, the Giants' game had already gone final, and the Redskins left the field aware that they were in first place. They need only a win next week in Philadelphia and then at home against Dallas the following week to call themselves NFC East champions. Won't be easy, but knowing it's possible has been the fuel for the winning streak that has them, finally, where they want to be.
Hungry is exactly the way these Redskins have begun to look at the most critical time of the year. The hunger with which they're playing is the reason it's all in their hands now.
Clark Judge, Judgements, CBS Sports
Vinny Iyer, Checkdown, Sporting News
The NFC East is a three-team race with two games remaining in the regular season. With the New York Giants getting shut down, 34-0, in Atlanta on Sunday, the door opened for both the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys—and they walked right through to pull even with New York at 8-6.
Based on having the best division record (3-1), the Redskins are the new first-place team and control their destiny. Rookie backup quarterback Kirk Cousins, subbing for Robert Griffin III, led them to an impressive 38-21 road rout of Cleveland. The Cowboys (3-2 in the NFC East) were able to keep pace by fighting hard to outlast Pittsburgh at home, 27-24, in overtime.
Now, there's an understatement. First, Washington trades up to nab franchise-transforming quarterback Robert Griffin III. Then it uses a fourth-round pick to add a quality backup for RG3 in Kirk Cousins, who is a sparkling 1-0 as a starter after directing the Redskins' 38-21 victory at Cleveland on Sunday in Griffin's absence. But how about sixth-rounder Alfred Morris (pictured)? The running back had 87 yards rushing and two touchdowns to support Cousins, upping his season total to 1,322 yards rushing. He's 194 yards away from the storied franchise's single-season rushing record, held by Clinton Portis. No coincidence the Redskins have ascended to the top of the NFL East with that kind of drafting.
Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com
The Redskins currently are in first place. They'll claim the division title if they win out against the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cowboys the next two weeks. With just four conference losses so far, the Redskins also stand a better chance than most of lucking into a wild-card spot even if they finish 9-7.
and Around the League,
4. The Redskins don't even need Robert Griffin III to get healthy in time for next week's game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Kirk Cousins has it covered. Let's just get RG3 back for the regular-season finale against the Dallas Cowboys.
Michael Smith, Pro Football Talk
4. Redskins (8-6): Washington is one of the hottest teams in the NFL and is now has the tiebreaker edge in the three-way NFC East battle.
Don Banks, Snap Judgments, CNNSI
I don't think there's really any argument about what came first this season in Washington: Robert Griffin III or the Redskins' belief in themselves? But no matter. What Sunday proved is that these resurgent Redskins are about more than just the spectacular feats of their confident and dynamic first-round rookie quarterback.
That's what Washington's fifth consecutive victory and rookie backup quarterback Kirk Cousins' superb relief job in the place of an injured Griffin taught us in Week 15. The Redskins were without their offensive catalyst thanks to last week's knee sprain, and yet they didn't break stride whatsoever, going on the road to dismantle a Cleveland Browns team that had won three in a row and four out of five at home.
What a remarkable turn of events we've seen unfold in Washington, where just six weeks ago Mike Shanahan's team stood 3-6 and was seemingly ready to focus on next year. RGIII fireworks or not, the Redskins didn't seem capable of making any real noise in this season's Super Bowl tournament. At that same point, the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants were 6-3, at least three games ahead of everyone in the division, and looking like they'd cruise to another NFC East title.
Griffin's celebrated arrival may have changed what seemed possible in Washington, but this team just won the two most important games of its season the past two weeks thanks to Cousins, the fourth-round luxury pick from Michigan State. In his first NFL start, Cousins threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns in the 38-21 win at Cleveland, just seven days after leading Washington to an overtime-producing touchdown and a game-winning field goal against Baltimore at FedEx Field.
Somewhat like the Redskins themselves this season, Cousins started somewhat shakily, missing his first three pass attempts and throwing an interception that helped set up a one-play Browns touchdown drive. But he steadied himself and found receiver Leonard Hankerson on a 54-yard first-quarter touchdown pass to tie the score at 7-7 and give Washington the confidence that it could win, even with its second-best rookie quarterback.
Washington is in control of its playoff drive, and its five-game winning streak (its longest since 2007) is no fluke. The Redskins are playing better than anyone else in the NFC East by far, and they know their margin of victory is slight enough to require their best each and every week. Griffin might have started the ball rolling this season in Washington, but Cousins and the rest of a rather self-less roster have kept it going. And you get the feeling these Redskins are nowhere near being done yet.