LANDOVER, MD - It was a situation that required Kirk Cousins to be numb to the chaos swirling around him as he trotted out onto the field.
The Washington Redskins were down 28-20 to the Baltimore Ravens with 1:47 left in the fourth quarter, and yet the anxiety that festered among Fed Ex Field crowd was not directed towards field of play. Instead, all eyes were pointed squarely on the Redskins sideline, as Robert Griffin III -- the player in whom the Redskins invested so much to be their franchise player -- lied on the team trainer's table in agony, writhing in pain from a knee injury suffered earlier in the drive.
And with the specter of a severe injury to Griffin hanging over the crowd, it was Cousins -- the player most thought was a luxury selection in April's draft -- that was charged with coming off the bench cold and take on the seemingly-impossible task of finishing a off a game-tying drive.
"That's the life of a backup quarterback in this league," Cousins said.
Equipped with limited preparation, guts, and his teammates' unwavering belief in him, it was up to Cousins to save the Redskins season.
"I was like, ‘You got this, Kirk' and I gave him a pat on the back," said running back Alfred Morris. "Nothing else needed to be said. "
With one unlikely completion after another, the Redskins rookie backup quarterback had his team on the doorstep of a tie game. He found Leonard Hankerson for a 16-yard completion to set up third-and-5. Then, mimicking the guy ahead of him on the depth chart, he bought time, rolled to his right and found an open Pierre Garcon for an 11-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-26. He then surprised the Ravens by running up the middle on a quarterback draw to tie the game on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt.
It was a sequence sent the Redskins and Ravens into overtime, and led to Kai Forbath's eventual game-winning kick to keep Washington alive in the playoff picture at 7-6.
"I thought ‘I am going to make something happen and try to do my best ‘RGIII', if you will," said a smiling Cousins afterward.
To be sure, Cousins is not Griffin -- not many quarterbacks are. But when Griffin went down, the fourth round pick out of out Michigan State got a chance to show that he was much more than just a curious selection in the fourth round, and that his hours of preparation were not in vain.
"I go into meetings, watch lots of film and talk with the coaches," Cousins said of his weekly regimen. "Just trying to watch cut-ups and plays and games and saying, ‘What would I do if I was in this area on the field?'
The work paid off, as Cousins was poised in the face of a difficult situation, something that wasn't lost on his teammates.
"What'd they used to say about Larry Byrd? [He has] Ice water in his veins?" said receiver Joshua Morgan. "That's the best thing you can say about Kirk.....[wide receivers coach] Ike Hilliard said it best, he's a human computer."
"What's great about him is that he works hard," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander added. "He understands that the offense is a little bit different when he comes in the game, so he does a great job during the week doing extra study time with the quarterback coach."
Griffin's injury and Cousins' subsequent performance will perhaps reshape the argument of those who believed that the Redskins should have never spent a fourth round pick on a quarterback. Despite having other needs -- most notably at offensive line and secondary -- the Redskins selected Cousins because they wanted stability at the quarterback position up and down the depth chart, and were abiding by of one of the NFL's core truths.
"It's a next man up type of league," said guard Chris Chester.
It's an oft used mantra may sound cliche, but remains accurate. Depth has proven to be such an important part of building a playoff contending team, and quarterback is no different.
Without a doubt, the long term future of the Redskins franchise rests on the shoulders of Griffin, and keeping him healthy is among the organization's top priorities moving forward.
But while the Redskins hope that Griffin is not out for an extended period of time, Sunday's development may have given them a chance to reap the potential rewards of having organizational depth -- something most Redskins fans didn't think they'd be grateful for eight months ago.