Redskins' Cousins steps in for RG3 and shines

Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins throws against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. Cousins was...

Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins throws against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. Cousins was filling in for the injured Robert Griffin III. (Getty Images/AFP)

Bill Lankhof, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:31 PM ET

Kirk Cousins didn’t just fill in for Robert Griffin III Sunday. He did him one better.

Cousins passed for 329 yards, the second best total in Redskins’ team history by a rookie quarterback, in a 38-21 win over Cleveland.

Ed Rubbert, who had 334 in 1987, holds the record, while Griffin had 323 earlier this season for his best outing.

Griffin, who practised all week with a sprained knee, was expected to play, but he was told before the game by coach Mike Shanahan that Cousins — who admitted he was nervous — would get his first NFL start.

Before the game, Griffin said, “I talked to him about being cool, calm and collected and not to freak out. He did a good job of staying poised and staying confident in there.”

The Skins’ first four drives consisted of three three-and-outs, plus an interception, and they didn’t get beyond their own 25. Then Cousins rolled out and fired between triple coverage to find Leonardo Hankerson and a 54-yard TD catch to tie the game 7-7.

“I’ve been preparing to go all season as if I had to play knowing I’m one play away,” said Cousins. “This isn’t my first rodeo. I did play a lot of football in the Big 10.”

The Redskins fell behind 14-10 at halftime, but blew the game open with 21 unanswered points. “We started slow,” said Cousins, “but you’ve got to have character to dig deep. We didn’t get spooked by a slow start.”

A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME?

There were no playoff aspirations at stake, but for Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins, it was an exhibition of what might someday be: NFL domination.

OK, maybe not domination, but on Sunday, Tannehill showed why the Dolphins decided to dump veteran Chad Henne and give him the job as starting quarterback.

Tannehill continued his steady rookie season, missing on just six of 28 passes to lead the Dolphins to a 24-3 win over Jacksonville, the cross-state rival now led by Henne. It won’t be enough to get the Dolphins a playoff slot this year. But Tannehill played with veteran coolness, and looked like the veteran in this duel, completing the game with a 123.2 rating.

“It feels good to go out and execute the game plan, have some fun, have some long sustained drives and convert third downs,” Tannehill said. “It was a lot of fun.”

Not for Henne. Chances are if he never sees Miami again it will be too soon. Henne threw for 221 yards. But one series exhibited the Jags’ struggles this season — three chances on fourth down all of which failed to punch the ball in for a TD. Then an illegal-substitution penalty cost Jacksonville a touchdown after Henne thought he had a 20-yard scoring pass to Justin Blackmon.

Kind of explains why they are 2-12 with a great chance to win the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft.

SAINTS CRUSH BUCS

Josh Freeman had his worst game of the year. Drew Brees had one of his best.

That added up to one frustrating day for the Bucs and the New Orleans Saints’ first shutout in 17 years — a 41-0 victory. So ended a day that started with the Bucs still having some faint hope of making the playoffs. No more.

Brees, taking liberties with Tampa Bay’s league-worst pass defence, snapped out of a slump, hitting for four TD passes and 307 yards. Freeman spent much of the afternoon hitting guys dressed in New Orleans uniforms, too, throwing four interceptions. The fumble came on a sack. So, it wasn’t all his fault.

For the Saints, it was the club’s first shutout since a 12-0 win in the 1995 season finale against the Jets in New York.

NIGHTMARE CONTINUES FOR CHARGERS

Philip Rivers completed just 16 passes and the San Diego Chargers suffered another miserable Sunday to cap a miserable season.

The Chargers were crushed 31-7 at home by the Carolina Panthers, who have now won consecutive games for the first time in a year.

The Chargers (5-9), once one of the league’s most colourful offensive machines, managed just 164 total yards and missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year. Mike Tolbert scored twice against his former team.

On the upside ... there were thousands of empty seats on a wet San Diego afternoon. So maybe hardly anyone will notice.

RYAN STEPS IT UP

Maybe Matt Ryan isn’t

Mr. October after all.

The Falcons quarterback, touted as a most valuable player candidate earlier this season, had left folks scratching their ballots, and their heads, after an uneven effort last week that resulted in a loss to lowly Carolina.

That, coupled with past disappointing finishes in December and January had people wondering if he might just be a fair-weather QB, leading a team that couldn’t win when it really counted.

The Falcons have yet to win a post-season game since Ryan took over as the quarterback in 2008, compiling an 0-3 record.

With that 30-20 loss to last-place Carolina in mind — and last year’s playoff disaster when he was limited to 199 yards and was sacked twice by New York — Ryan had to come up with a sterling effort to re-establish his own MVP credentials.

He did, throwing three touchdown passes — two to Julio Jones — and completing 23 of 28 for 270 yards.

“I felt like I was seeing the field well,” Ryan said.

The game was also viewed as an opportunity for the Falcons to show that they need to be taken seriously this post-season. They did, as the defence handed New York its first regular-season shutout since 1996.

“We love the haters, man,” said Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel, who had two interceptions. “The haters keep us going. So keep your hate coming. We love it. It makes us play with a chip on our shoulder.”

It wasn’t just that they won, it was the manner in which the Falcons won, that reinforces their position as the premier team in the NFC.

At 12-2, the Falcons have clinched the NFC South and moved within a win of locking up home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.


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