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A tale of two Tampas: How one opponent sorted out the Redskins QB position

LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 06: Robert Griffin III #10 looks towards Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins before playing against the Seattle Seahawks at FedExField on October 6, 2014 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Two seasons, one opponent. Two quarterbacks, one starting job.

Now that Kirk Cousins is under contract as the Redskins’ unquestioned starting QB and Robert Griffin III is officially off the roster, it’s time to sift through the wreckage of the team’s best laid plans and see how we got here. In looking back, strangely enough, the pivotal game in both quarterback’s careers came against none other than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Think about it — everything we know about these two quarterbacks we learned when they played the Bucs. Cousins is a productive, clutch performer with the tools and intangibles to lead a team to the playoffs. Griffin doesn’t currently have the attitude, the temperament, or the overall skills to be a consistent NFL starter — at least not yet.

Let’s go back to Week 11 in 2014. Fresh off a bye week, the 3-6 Redskins were hosting a one-win Bucs team that sported the league’s worst defense. Griffin had returned from injury two weeks prior in a loss to Minnesota. Instead of putting together a good performance against a bad opponent, RG3 turned in perhaps the worst game of his career, taking six sacks and throwing for just 207 yards along with two awful interceptions in a 27-7 loss. His 73.3 QB rating looks way better than the film breakdown of his performance would indicate.

Perhaps worse than that performance was the fallout. After the game, RG-Me essentially took a poor stance on the poor performance and was ripped by his coach, all of which set up a drama-filled conclusion to a putrid 4-12 season that saw just one victory in the final eight games and multiple starts for all three QBs. The season-ending 44-17 beatdown delivered by Dallas proved to be Griffin’s last regular season start in Burgundy and Gold.

Fast forward to Week 7, 2015.

The 2-4 ‘Skins again host the Bucs with their season on the brink of disaster, only this time 2-3 Tampa dominated the first half, scoring the game’s first 24 points. Though guilty of a fumble that was returned for a first half touchdown, Cousins recovered to post perhaps the best game of his career to that point. He completed 33-of-40 passes for 317 yards and 3 TDs, the last of which was the game-winner to Jordan Reed with 24 seconds remaining. That performance (good for a 124.7 QB rating) fueled the largest comeback victory in Redskins history, a 31-30 win to save them from falling to 2-5 heading into their bye week and a trip to then-undefeated New England next on the docket.

The win over Tampa changed the way we saw Cousins and the Redskins. Including that improbable victory, Cousins threw 23 TDs and just three interceptions in the final 10 regular season games, a 7-3 push that ultimately won the NFC East. Unwittingly, Cousins even proved himself more marketable than Griffin. His extemporaneous “You Like That!” catchphrase instantly caught fire because it was genuine and spontaneous, unlike Griffin’s contrived slogans like “All In For Week 1” and “Operation Patience” that fell flat and were largely mocked.

And now Griffin — the second overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft who produced an unforgettable Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign and carried a dead franchise to its first division title in 13 years — looks more likely to be labeled a bust than to earn himself a Hall of Fame bust. He’s on the street looking for work at time when Cousins, the insurance policy on Griffin that was selected 100 picks after him, has been named the Redskins’ franchise player and will collect a cool $19.95 million to build on his breakout 2015 season. It’s almost like Trading Places without the happy ending.

Nobody knows what’s next for these two QBs. Captain Kirk could take the ‘Skins where no man has gone before, or flame out like so many of his predecessors. RG3 might wash out of the league completely or revive his career in a new city (personally, I believe Kansas City provides him his best hope for redemption; he wouldn’t have the pressure to start, it’s a smaller media market, and Andy Reid has a long track record for getting the most out of QBs with RG3’s skill set). The only thing we know for sure is Cousins is the Redskins’ QB for 2016 and Griffin is no longer the answer in Washington.

And we only know that much because of two separate fall Sundays against the Bucs at FedEx Field. Redskins fans can thank Tampa Bay for quite a bit. Doug Williams. Jay Gruden (indirectly). Eleven wins all-time. But clarity on football’s most important position just might be the greatest gift of all.

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