ASHBURN, Virginia — Whenever Kirk Cousins has subbed for Robert Griffin III, there's never been any pretense of a budding Washington Redskins quarterback controversy. Cousins has always been quick to say "This is Robert's team," implying that any future as a starter in the NFL would have to come with another organization.
There's a different feel this time.
Griffin isn't sidelined for a game or two with an injury, and he hasn't been shut down by a coach on the way out the door. He'll be in a cast for 10 days with a dislocated ankle and then need some four to six weeks of rehab, leading to serious questions about his long-term durability.
That gives Cousins his best chance yet to make his case. If he plays well and wins enough games, he could present a tough decision for coach Jay Gruden when Griffin is healthy again.
"Every opportunity, you're under a microscope," Cousins said. "And it's just important that you're well-prepared each time you go out there and you know what you're going to do, and you don't lay an egg."
Sunday's game against Philadelphia will be Cousins' 11th since he and Griffin were drafted in 2012, and the results have been mixed. He led a late rally and beat the New York Giants in overtime as a rookie after Griffin left with a knee injury, then started and had a solid game to beat the Cleveland Browns the following week.
Other relief appearances didn't yield much, and he failed to make much of a statement — five interceptions, 64.5 rating — in three starts at the end of last season after Griffin was benched by outgoing coach Mike Shanahan.
But those three games were hardly ideal circumstances. The team was already on a five-game losing streak and going nowhere, and the distractions surrounding Shanahan's inevitable department made for an environment that wasn't conducive for winning.
Now Cousins is taking over a team that's 1-1, and he's coming off a 22-for-33 day off the bench in a 41-10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"If we're comparing last season, the last three games to right now, certainly it's different," Cousins said. "Much earlier in the season, with a lot more to play for, and I think that creates a heightened sense of urgency."
Cousins is also stoked to be playing for Gruden because of the coach's success as an offensive coordinator in Cincinnati with Andy Dalton, a similar-style, pocket-passing quarterback. The Cousins-Griffin comparison is a tricky one for that very reason: Cousins is probably the better quarterback as of this moment in this specific system, while Griffin has more overall talent and potential — if he can get healthy and master the new offense.
"You know, I'm not 6-5. I don't run a 4.3. I don't have an arm that can throw it 90 yards," Cousins said. "So if I don't have good command and if I'm not making good decisions and if I'm not doing a great job of managing the game, then I'm not going to be playing in this league very long."
Cousins is careful not to overstate the importance of the next few games to his own career, and Gruden said he'll "cross that bridge when it comes" if he has to decide between the quarterbacks later in the season. For one thing, any such dilemma won't happen if Cousins doesn't play well. This Sunday's opponent — the Philadelphia Eagles — should present a much greater challenge than the Jaguars.
"We don't expect him to go out and win the MVP next week or win a Super Bowl to prove he's an upper-echelon quarterback right away," Gruden said. "We do expect him to produce and play within the offense and not make mistakes and do what he's supposed to do — handle the protections and play the position — because we feel like he's good enough to play the position at a very high level. Expectations? We expect him to be effective."
Notes: The subject of the infamous 20-cent tip left by LeSean McCoy at a restaurant came up when the Eagles RB spoke to Washington reporters on a conference call. Told that the receipt is selling for as much as $100,000 on eBay, McCoy said: "Hey, I need parts of that, man. That's why I probably didn't tip him more than 20 cents." ... Redskins who didn't practice Wednesday: WR DeSean Jackson (shoulder), TE Jordan Reed (hamstring), DE Kedric Golston (groin), LB Akeem Jordan (knee) and CB Tracy Porter (hamstring).
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