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Kirk Cousins’ departure puts Redskins’ focus on football, not contracts

September 12, 2018

There was a lot to like about Washington’s season-opening victory Sunday against Arizona.

The Cardinals were squashed and held scoreless for 54 minutes before finally cracking the end zone against a prevent defense to create the final margin, 24-6.

Washington’s key starters returning from injury offensive tackle Trent Williams, halfback Chris Thompson and tight end Jordan Reed resembled their old selves.

Newcomer Adrian Peterson looked nearly as good as ever, gaining 96 yards rushing and 70 yards receiving in his debut as the team’s starting halfback.

Then there was new quarterback Alex Smith, turning in a tidy performance of 255 yards with a 70 percent completion rate for two touchdowns and no interceptions.

But numbers weren’t the most impressive aspect of “the Alex Smith Era, Game 1.”

They were fine, good enough to rank fourth in ESPN’s quarterback rating and seventh in the NFL’s rating. Those expectations were set last season, with Kansas City, when he finished No. 1 in the NFL’s metric and eighth in ESPN’s.

No, it wasn’t his statistics that took our breath. It wasn’t his stature or his mobility. It wasn’t his calm professionalism that exudes competence. He checks every box, but that’s not why the atmosphere in Ashburn seems refreshed and Washington seems rejuvenated ahead of Sunday’s home opener against Indianapolis (and maybe Hurricane Florence).

The difference is what’s missing, thankfully and good riddance. I don’t mean Kirk Cousins’ presence, just the nagging questions about his future.

With the weight removed, we can appreciate how heavy it was.

The week-to-week debates and game-after-game referendums. The dissection of each pass attempt and non-attempt. The never-ending search for hidden meaning and veiled messages as every quote was parsed.

Bearing it all for the last three years almost felt natural.

It was the new normal, at least in these parts. The subject grew tiresome but it became part of the fabric, noticed and ignored simultaneously, like white noise or a TV in the background.

We didn’t fully realize the toil on our collective psyche. The two camps engaged in a fierce battle “In Kirk We Trust” versus “Never Kirk” leaving everyone bruised. But now, with Smith under contract for four seasons and Cousins in Minnesota, musings about Washington’s QB have ended.

Everybody can relax.

This is not to suggest that Smith is better or worse than Cousins. Washington’s former quarterback had an efficient debut for the Vikings, 244 passing yards with a 55 percent completion rate for two touchdowns and no interceptions. Smith and Cousins were remarkably close, which could be the case all season.

Some folks in Washington, unable to move on like the team, will keep an eye on Minnesota to see how Cousins performs every week compared to Smith. What a miserable shame, watching and waiting for opportunities to say, “Told you so!”, instead of embracing Smith and wishing Cousins well.

There’s a reason why front windshields are 100 times larger than rearview mirrors.

Washington fans saw only anxiety and trepidation surrounding their quarterback when they looked forward. There’s no sense in disappointed fans looking backward, filled with hurt and longing. Whatever lies ahead for Cousins is swathed in purple and gold, not burgundy and gold.

This town’s franchise QB gave us a taste of what’s ahead here, a sampling of everything he offers. That included a seven-yard gain on one of his carries and a critical conversion via quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1. There wasn’t much of a downfield passing attack, but Smith attributed that to Arizona’s coverage more than anything.

We didn’t have much to go from the mere 14 passes he threw in the preseason. It turns out that Gruden’s decision to limit the starters’ minutes was a nonfactor in Week 1. Smith said it didn’t matter because the main concern wasn’t rust entering the opener with his new squad.

“I was just anxious to see us when it really matters,” he told reporters Wednesday. “I think all that stuff gets turned up the intensity, the stress, the anxiety all those things get magnified once they become real. I was anxious to see just how we handled that.

“This team as a whole handled that really, really well. For me, that was the unknown.”

Other unknowns were answered really well, too, especially those involving Peterson, young defenders, and stars back from injury. Afterward, there was no mystery about those incessant quarterback questions, a Washington tradition since 2015. They were absence, a welcome development and unfamiliar relief.

Sometimes, you don’t realize how burdened you were until a weight has been lifted.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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