The Tampa met The Redskin in open waters yesterday. Initially, it appeared the entire crew of The Redskin had incurred scurvy; The Tampa‘s crew streamed over the gunnels like a tidal wave, wiping out the opposition for half of the fight and staking their claim to the mast.

Then, Captain Kirk awoke in his cabin, and led his troops to victory.

With a gun on his right arm, the captain inspired his crew to stymie the onslaught before heading to the front of the line. From there, he singlehandedly shot down his opponents, one by one, before a final push helped him board The Tampa and claim victory within seconds of defeat.

Nautical metaphors aside, what happened yesterday at FedEx Field was nothing short of improbable. There are many teams I would peg as having the ability to overcome a 24-0 second-quarter deficit; the Redskins, by a large margin, are not one of those teams. They employ a backup-level quarterback starting his 16th career game, playing in an offense that has run for 135 yards on 60 carries in its last three games, throwing to receivers who get no separation beyond five yards; the defense has given up at least 176 yards on the ground in three consecutive weeks and has forced only three interceptions all season. Instead, we witnessed the largest comeback in the history of this storied franchise. THIS SHOULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED.

But Kirk Cousins made it happen. He may not be the answer, but he was The Answer in Week 7.

Cousins is buzzin’

The above clip has been played so many times now that it’ll go down in D.C. sports history as Cousins’ version of Bryce Harper’s “clown question” comment. The man had every right to be pumped up and as the Junkies mentioned on 106.7 The Fan this morning, it was probably very important for fans to see this side of their quarterback. For better or worse, Cousins does seem to have a reputation as a goody two-shoes, God-loving, clean cut white boy (there are literally zero things wrong with that, but so many fans resent players who don’t come across as tough or impassioned). His comments earlier this week about watching HGTV to tune out the media noise only served to further this reputation (seriously, Kirk? At least give the Food Network a try). For a large sect of fans, seeing the bedraggled hero emerge from behind the curtain to scream manically at reporters was the first taste of raw off-field emotion from a typically stoic young player. In the endless, superfluous war with Robert Griffin apologists, followers of logic and reason now have some extra ammunition.

The final stat line for Cousins is damning for those who claimed he could never throw 40 times in a game without an interception. He finished 33 for 40 for 317 yards and three touchdowns, including a rushing score on a beautifully executed read-option play, and avoided throwing any interceptions. His fumble that Tampa Bay returned for a touchdown was mostly due to his indecisiveness, so points off for that. But for the most part, he was on point. I only counted two throws that had any chance of being intercepted, meaning he was staying away from the big mistake consistently.

For all of you who deny Cousins any credit, think about someone like Cam Newton. Sure, people rag on Newton all the time but the general feel seems to be that if he just had someone to throw the ball to, he might put up better numbers. Who the hell is Kirk Cousins throwing to? Jordan Reed is a top-10 tight end, maybe even top-5, but outside of that Cousins has fewer candidates than the Democratic election ballot. Pierre Garcon? Averaging under 11 yards per catch. DeSean Jackson? Out for the last six weeks. Jamison Crowder? No one is double covering Jamison Crowder. Ryan Grant? Sure, talented, but far from being even a No. 2 on most teams. That Cousins did what he did yesterday is all the more incredible given that he has nobody reliable save for Reed, and absolutely no consistent downfield threat.

At this point, he reminds me of Eli Manning. He can make all the throws and sometimes looks like the best quarterback you’ve ever seen, then, he turns around a performance making you wonder why anyone ever gave him a chance. The only thing missing is the ability to bring out more good than bad. Cousins may not be the ultimate answer under center, but he is clearly the best option they have right now and has shown an ability to play at an above average level.

Also, he’s led three game-winning or game-tying drives in the final minutes in three of his last four games. It’s becoming a habit.

The defense is a wreck, but came up with the biggest play of the game

Don’t ask me what’s happened to the Redskins’ defense. For the first few weeks of the season it was a revelation. Teams couldn’t run, couldn’t pass, really, teams were being absolutely run over by Washington’s front. Now, it looks like Trent Richardson could go for 200 against a unit that looks Swiss cheesier with each week. The first quarter against the Bucs was the type you lock away in a safe and never speak of.

Tampa put up over 200 yards of offense in a flash, running for 10-yard chunks almost at will. They finished with just under 500 yards, on the road. Mike Evans would make the Hall of Fame tomorrow if he played the Redskins every week; in the last two games against Washington, he’s hauled in 15 catches for – get this – 373 yards and three touchdowns. That, my friends, is absolute dominance.

The defense looked terrible and there are discussions to be had about how worrying this trend is – who isn’t expecting Tom Brady to go for 400 yards in two weeks? – but there is no denying the boys came up big when it mattered.

First, Bashaud Breeland, who is quickly becoming the most indispensable player on that side of the ball despite his poor showing, made the hustle play of the year, running down Doug Martin and turning a potential game-winning touchdown into a mere 49-yard gain. If Martin had scored, the game was over. Instead, the Bucs were forced to run three plays, the last of which resulted in the Redskins swallowing Charles Sims behind the line of scrimmage. Tampa Bay had to settle for a field goal, setting up the game-winning drive. The defense also forced a fumble on the Bucs’ last offensive play, a play that likely would have set up a game-winning field goal.

Also, Will Compton needs to start. This is non-negotiable if the coaching staff has any acumen. The defense is simply different when he plays, and he had a hell of a game. Compton will probably be forced into duty because of the mind-boggling amount of injuries, but he should have been in there all along.

Jay Gruden loads the cannons with his balls

Onside kicks never work and there are rarely moments when they are justified. Nothing inspires whines from armchair quarterbacks more than an onside kick that doesn’t end well. Jay Gruden, with balls the size of goddamn coconuts, called for an onside kick that led to consecutive touchdown drives and literally won the game for Washington. Without executing that kick, the Redskins would not have won this game, mark my words.

It’s not as ballsy a call as I might have you believe, considering that the game was essentially out of hand and there was little risk involved. But hindsight being 20/20, it was the perfect play, at the perfect time. Again, without the onside kick, the Redskins would have lost this game.

But Gruden’s performance goes beyond that one play. Washington had only four penalties in the game, and the playcalling in the second half was sterling. To come back from a deficit that large, a team has to execute on every play. The Redskins did just that, and it falls squarely on Gruden’s shoulders.

Also, do me a favor and watch Gruden’s postgame press conference. He looks really determined, really confident, really coach-like, more than I’ve ever seen. I genuinely feel like Gruden’s reputation suffers from Eric Spoelstra syndrome – Spoelstra is a superb NBA coach but looks like an extra who got lost on the set of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’m not saying Gruden is a superb coach, he has a lot to prove before he gets that praise – but I think his soft physique, strange mannerisms, friendly face, stupid budding mustache, and  unique vernacular and accent lend many to think he’s just not coach material. If you are hired as a coach in the NFL, even if you’re Jim Zorn, you are coach material in some fashion. Lay off the guy.

As I’ve said before, the Redskins are not a good team. Yet here they sit at 3-4, having been competitive in five of seven games. You look for improvement on a year to year basis as justification for keeping a coach under contract. If you’re a fan who thinks the Redskins haven’t improved over last season, you need to get the hell out. This is a completely different team, and Gruden deserves a lot of credit.

Some thoughts

  • Injuries are decimating this team. Washington isn’t just missing a bunch of players, they’re missing a bunch of KEY players, and lost even more this week. Coming into the game, Chris Culliver, DeAngelo Hall (No. 1 and 2 CB), DeSean Jackson (No. 1 WR), Kory Lichtensteiger (No. 1 C), and Duke Ianacho (No. 1 S) were all out; during the game, Ryan Kerrigan suffered a broken hand, Perry Riley strained something, Keenan Robinson hurt a rib, and Breeland pulled his hamstring. The Redskins are literally falling apart, and they are still a game under .500. THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE. No team will ever benefit more from a bye week than this one.
  • Kirk Cousins is impressively comfortable running a two-minute drill, so I think it would greatly benefit the team if Sean McVay started calling some hurry up at points in the game. Whenever the offense gets in a rhythm, it seems like Cousins plays his best. Also: Kirk Cousins is the first Redskins quarterback with 300 pass yards, 3 touchdown passes and no interceptions in a win since Brad Johnson in Week 4 of the 1999 season.
  • Jordan Reed is the most important player on the offense, just like Jackson was last year. Washington has no matchup advantages at wide receiver, so they have to turn to Reed in times of need. The guy is a matchup nightmare for defenses, too fast for linebackers and too big and strong for defensive backs. He has a chance to be the best tight end in the history of the team, and is slowly proving to be one of the five best tight ends in all of football.

  • Non-Redskins thought: Jameis Winston is going to be a really, really good player. He turns the ball over a lot, as most rookies do, but you watch him play and you can’t help but feel like the Bucs are in good hands. He can make all the throws, he’s deadly accurate when his feet are set, and his mechanics in the pocket are spot-on. Like really, watch him in the pocket – it looks so free and natural, like he was literally born to play quarterback. He’ll take his lumps but I see him putting together a career with more than a few Pro Bowls.

Playing the Patriots

The Redskins travel to play the Patriots in two weeks. The Patriots are 46-4 in their last 50 home games (that is not a typo). If the Redskins win, it would literally be one of the biggest upsets in recent NFL history. So, since they’ll most likely lose, let’s not overreact about what happens, OK? Be realistic, Washington. Please. Even if it’s 55-10 or something. Just remember – the Patriots are the best team in the league and the Redskins are banged up and had to make a historic comeback to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This will not end well, so temper your expectations. You may be surprised.

*All photos courtesy of Redskins.com

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