Last season, Kirk Cousins was called upon to start the last three games of the season for the Redskins, who, by that time, were already out of the playoff hunt and simply playing for pride.
Cousins had his ups and his downs during that three-game stretch, but he spent his offseason perfecting his craft even more, knowing that he would once again be one play away from being his team's quarterback any given week.
That mentality paid off for Cousins last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. When starting quarterback Robert Griffin III went down with a left ankle injury halfway through the first quarter, Cousins immediately found his helmet, threw a few warmup tosses, and, the next thing he knew, was under center in front of more than 80,000 fans at FedExField.
Two plays later, Cousins found fullback Darrel Young wide open in the end zone for the touchdown, starting a streak of 12 straight completions for the Michigan State product. When all was said and done, the Redskins had trampled the Jaguars, 41-10, and Cousins had turned in a masterpiece, completing 22-of-33 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns – with no interceptions – and a quarterback rating of 109.4.
With Griffin III out the next few weeks with a dislocated ankle, head coach Jay Gruden has given the keys to the offense to Cousins, starting with Sunday's game against the Eagles in Philadelphia.
Cousins said the pressure he's feeling to come in and produce right away in the team's NFC East opener is "nothing new."
"We've played college football on a big stage and started NFL games and been a part of NFL teams in big games," the third-year quarterback said. "All that being said, this isn't something brand new that we need to make a big deal of. We're going on the road, we're playing a great football team, a team that 2-0, leading our division, and we need to have a great week of practice to be ready to play them."
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden, who was hired in January, said Cousins has done a great job embracing his role as the backup quarterback, and has certainly taken advantage of any reps he's had over the course of the offseason and the preseason.
"Now that Robert's had the injury, it's his job and we'll cater to what he does, but he's been nothing but a pro with the whole process of this ordeal and I think he'll be ready," Gruden said. "Time will tell. He got some good looks, the running game was very effective against Jacksonville. We'll see how he does in some key third down situations when the game's tight or if we're trailing."
Both Cousins and his head coach on Wednesday were asked about the parallels between Cousins and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, whom Gruden worked with the past three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Dalton – a Pro Bowler his rookie year in 2011 – has thrown for almost 12,000 yards and 82 touchdowns in his three-plus years in the league, and has led the Bengals to playoff appearances each season.
"He is a very similar guy to Andy," Gruden said of Cousins. "They both wear rubber rings on their ring finger, you know, but they're quarterbacks. They're drop-back quarterbacks and they're both very good, competitive, smart players."
The main difference between Dalton and Cousins? "Andy's done it. Andy's proven it. He's won," Gruden said.
"He's been the past three years in the row and played a lot of football. Kirk hasn't had the reps that Andy's had. Andy from Day 1 of training camp, he got every first-team rep. That's not the case with Kirk. So, he's got to now take all these reps and fast forward to a game on Sunday and that's easier said than done a lot."
Cousins said he certainly paid attention to what Gruden and Dalton were able to accomplish during their three years together in Cincinnati, and hopes he can replicate that kind of success, beginning Sunday against the Eagles.
"I believe that if I just do what (Gruden) tells me to do and stay patient, trust the process, keep working, good things are going to happen because he knows what he's talking about and he has a proven track record," Cousins said. "So I fully trust him and really just want to do what he tells me and work really hard to make sure the development comes quickly."