Following a division victory over the Giants in the Redskins' biggest game in three years, Kirk Cousins is showing that he can be the leader of a potential playoff team.
As the weeks have gone on through the 2015 season, fourth-year Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins has proven that he's capable of leading an NFL offense.
In the years prior to his insertion into the starting lineup this season, Cousins, who had been Robert Griffin III's primary backup, appeared only in spot duty.
Sometimes that might have affected his mindset. Now, though, with the re-assurance from his coaches and teammates that he is the right guy to lead the Redskins, it's about finding the best way to lead a 53-man squad.
"As quarterbacks go, I think everybody has their own different, unique personality," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. "Kirk, he's still finding his way. Obviously, it's his team and we all know that right now. He's still in the process of learning, basically studying what he wants to do and how to play the position. But the leadership stuff will come. I think everybody looks up to him, the type of kid that he is, how hard he works."
Gruden said that being a vocal leader, the ones that are described as "rah-rah" kind of guys, may not "be (Cousins') style yet," but there are other ways in which he guides the Redskins, who are currently in first place in the NFC East after 12 weeks of the season.
"He may grow into that type of role but there are great ways to lead — you don't have to be a vocal leader or yell at people to lead," Gruden said. "I think if you lead by example, by your work ethic and holding people to high standards, he's in good shape. He's doing a good job of that."
On Sunday afternoon against a Giants team he was winless against in his first three starts, throwing a combined eight interceptions to just two touchdowns in those games, Cousins showed that not only can he make adjustments, but can lead a team at a critical point of the season.
Had the Redskins lost, they would have been two games back of the Giants with just five games left. Instead, behind Cousins' 302 passing yards, a quarterback rating north of 114 and two total touchdowns, Washington grabbed a key 20-14 victory.
Cousins downplayed the importance of the win after the game, highlighting the fact that the team has employed a one-game season mentality each week, but understood that a loss would have set the Redskins back too far with only a handful of games left.
"Every game matters at a high level," Cousins said. "They all count one win or one loss. From where we are right now, this was very, very important and I am glad we came out on top."
His best pass of the day came in the second quarter.
Starting the drive at their own 37-yard line, Cousins faked a handoff to Alfred Morris before rolling out to his right.
After finding a stopping point, Cousins quickly turned his sights downfield to find DeSean Jackson past the second level of the defense.
Lofting a perfect thrown ball into the air, the two would connect for a 63-yard touchdown.
"We did a little hurry-up," Cousins said of the play. "DeSean won his matchup and got behind the safety. I was able to lead him across the field. I had a great pocket. He made the catch. He made the play. It was his ability to get behind the defense with his speed and then track the football in the air that's so special."
Later in the game, Cousins led the offense's most important drive of the season. No, it did not end in touchdown or did it even get the Redskins in field goal position, but it burned enough off the clock to basically thwart the Giants' late comeback attempt.
The eight-play drive, which ran off nearly five minutes of clock and consumed New York's final two timeouts, gave the Giants the ball back on their own 16-yard line with just 19 seconds left and no timeouts.
It would be too little, too late for the Giants.
"It is just about executing," Cousins said of holding on after a 20-0 lead turned. "We can't beat ourselves. We can't have penalties. We can't turn the ball over. We can't do things that make it hard to have points and move the football. We have to do our part in executing and when we do that, typically good things happen. Today, I think, when we did execute we were able to move the ball and score points."
As the season hits the final month, and December means a potential playoff push, everyone is buying into the captain of a ship that will hopeful steer them to a second division title in four seasons.
"Kirk's a great player," Reed said. "I don't think it's a question anymore of his talent and his potential. I just think that all of us believe in him and I think you guys should start seeing it too."