Quarterback Kirk Cousins connected with his receivers throughout the team's victory over the Broncos Sunday afternoon, having his most successful offensive outing in several weeks.
For most of this season, the common complaint with the Redskins' offense was that it received little production from the wide receiver position. The critiques magnified as more players were lost to injury – tight end Jordan Reed and running back Chris Thompson, to name a couple – and for the last several games quarterback Kirk Cousins had trouble converting on third downs and making big plays through the air to his outside targets.
That looked like it might be the case once more against the Broncos, as the Redskins began their penultimate game with three consecutive punts and found themselves burdened with long third down situations. Eventually Cousins began completing passes, found some gaps over the middle to take advantage of and turned around a narrative against a stingy defense ranked at the top of the league.
Washington's 27-11 victory over Denver on Sunday afternoon won't have any impact on the postseason (those hopes already faded), but it does signal that the team's remaining offensive parts are still capable of providing production good enough to win games against challenging opponents.
Cousins finished Sunday passing 19-of-37 for 299 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, giving fans at FedExField a proper home field send-off and reason to be more optimistic about this team's fight towards the end.
"I think that we were able to get into a kind of rhythm throughout the game, there were sometimes when things didn't really go our way," wide receiver Jamison Crowder said. "I feel like Ryan Grant really made some big plays to kind of get us going and everybody was kind of able to get into a rhythm and we were able to move the ball down the field."
It took until the second quarter, but Cousins's strike to Grant, who made an outstretched 13-yard first down grab by the sideline, fueled the team's first scorign drive in the secon quarter. The following play, Cousins hit Grant again, in stride over the middle for 32 more yards and Cousins, previously hamstrung with bad field position and poor downs and distances earned momentum back. The Redskins would settle for a field goal after wide receiver Josh Doctson couldn't complete a pass in in the end zone.
Following a defensive turnover in Broncos territory, the offense picked up right where it left off. Several plays later, Cousins hit Crowder on a 15-yard slant route over the middle for a touchdown.
"I just had a slant route," Crowder said. "I saw the guy was pressed up a little bit and he was kind of headed up to an outside shade and I knew I had an inside route. I just wanted to make sure when I broke off inside, I kept it what we call a skinny, away from the linebacker and that happened and Kirk was able to find me and I was able to get into the end zone."
The Redskins began the second half with a promising drive that ended with an interception in the end zone. Cousins neglected the Broncos' backside safety and disrupted what could have been a momentum-swinging scoring opportunity. After another defensive stop, however, Cousins found running back Kapri Bibbs for a 21-yard completion before connecting with Doctson and Crowder for 13 and 12 yards, respectively, to set up another field goal in the third quarter.
Cousins remained locked on Doctson throughout the game despite a heavy number of incompletions between them. Cousins acknowledged that some of those plays were his mistakes and others should have been called for penalties. Still, he targeted his big wide receiver a season-high 13 times, connecting on two passes, the second of which was the biggest play of the game.
After missing earlier on a deep pass, Doctson lined up in a three-receiver set, confusing Denver's defensive backs playing man-coverage upon the snap and ran down the field wide open for an easy 48-yard catch and jog into the end zone at the beginning of the fourth quarter. It helped contribute to Cousins's 299 passing yards, the most he had recorded since Week 11 against the Saints, and the trio of receivers – Grant, Doctson and Crowder -- ended up with 193 yards combined.
"Josh is going to get targets," head coach Jay Gruden said. "He's one of our main guys out there. Ryan Grant had some big-time plays, [Jamison] Crowder had some big-time plays...it's a good group of guys that are undervalued by a lot of people, but not by us."
"It just came down to making the throws, making the catches and converting," Cousins said. "You know, it was an imperfect game but when you have a defense playing at such a high level – it kept us in the game and kept giving us a chance. Then, we finally got rolling and made enough plays to pull away."
Cousins wasn't finished spreading the ball around near the end of the game either. On a third down, he found tight end Vernon Davis in the corner of the end zone for a 31-yard score to seal the victory with just more than four minutes remaining.
"Today, it was extremely tough in the beginning to get things going in the passing game. A lot of that has to do with the outstanding defense that Denver has," Davis said. "We struggled in our effort, but we were able to keep our heads held high and make plays."
If the Redskins can keep them high and keep making plays, they have a good chance to finish the season with .500 record, an accomplishment the team doesn't take lightly. Cousins mentioned in his press conference the desire for the perception of this team to be winners and players know all too well how momentum like this can affect an uncertain offseason ahead.
"We're doing it for the coaches," Grant said. "The focus is to finish 8-8, so it isn't about individual accomplishments. It's about playing for the guy next to you, making sure these coaches are straight."