NFL Week 11 Wrap: Has Cousins reached the next level?

WASHINGTON — Kirk Cousins has a new catchphrase. And it couldn’t be more perfect.

“How ya like me now” is way more than an overplayed song by The Heavy. It’s a literal question from Cousins to anyone who still doubts him. What more does this guy have to do to be taken seriously?

It would be a mistake to discount his 375-yard, three-touchdown performance against Green Bay as simply lighting up a lousy Packers defense. This was a nationally televised game at FedEx Field, something we know here in the D.C. area as certain doom. In windy and cold conditions, Cousins posted season-highs in QB rating (145.8) and yards per attempt (12.5), and it was his fourth game this season completing at least 70 percent of his passes. He didn’t dink and dunk the Packers, he picked them apart with pinpoint accurate passes including 44-, 53- and 70-yard strikes. This is a non-negotiable necessity for playing QB outdoors in the unpredictable elements of the D.C. area.

His Sunday night virtuoso performance didn’t come out of nowhere, either. Cousins has posted 100-plus QB ratings in five of the Redskins’ 10 games, and over the last three games, he’s directed the offense to a whopping 500 total yards in two of them. His individual numbers in those three games are a big reason for those totals: 1,095 yards, seven TDs and only one interception.

Cousins also hit some significant career marks. Sunday night was his franchise-record 16th 300-yard game and he also surpassed 10,000 passing yards in his career, becoming only the seventh Redskins QB to top that total. By season’s end, he’ll definitely pass Jason Campbell for sixth place on the all-time passing yardage list and get reasonably close to Billy Kilmer’s 12,352 yards. That doesn’t sound like much, but bear in mind Cousins’s 40 games are far fewer than Campbell’s 52 or Kilmer’s 82.

But this isn’t about numbers. It’s about impact.

The allegation that Cousins is an empty stat collector is way off base. Since the start of last season, the Redskins are 15-10-1. It’s no coincidence that Cousins’s QB rating over that span is 100.4 with a TD-to-INT ratio of 46-to-18. Captain Kirk’s crew —Jamison Crowder, Vernon Davis, Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed — are productive weapons because of him, not the other way around.

It’s high time everybody, Redskins brass included, get on board with the notion that Cousins is actually getting better with every start. This mythical Cousins regression isn’t coming. Barring a catastrophic injury, it’s no longer reasonable to assume the wheels are coming off the No. 8 car. If anything, I’m starting to contemplate the “E” word.

Elite.

Kirk Cousins just helped the Redskins end a seven-game home losing streak in prime time and has the team on the cusp of back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in a generation. If Cousins can take it another step further by outplaying red hot rookie Dak Prescott in his own house and carving up a seemingly unbeatable division rival on Thanksgiving Day, Cousins will suddenly be the hottest commodity in football. You’ll no longer be able to dismiss the “elite” conversation.

Consider this: Cousins has now outplayed three former Super Bowl MVPs this season. He outgunned Eli Manning and Joe Flacco in their own stadiums and just showed up Aaron Rodgers in prime time. Of that trio, only Rodgers is on a team with a worse defense than Washington’s. In fact, Cousins has faced four of the league’s top six scoring defenses and played relatively well: 97-of-154 passing (59 percent) for 1,149 yards with six TDs and three INTs. The Redskins were 3-1 in those games, and each had a winning record when they faced the ‘Skins. Thus, the biggest knock on Kirk last year (that he can’t beat good teams) is no longer accurate.

This isn’t my latest plea to “pay the man.” Because Cousins is playing under the complicated franchise tag, the Redskins couldn’t re-sign him to a long-term deal right now if they wanted to. But getting Kirk to sign on the dotted line should be the franchise’s top offseason priority, cost be damned. At this point, the Redskins can ill-afford to not re-sign Kirk.

Look around the league: Cleveland’s QB situation is like a dark comedy. Hell, the Jets would probably stop just short of murder to have the Redskins’ entire QB depth chart. It wasn’t that long ago that the ‘Skins were spoken in the same breath as these teams. General Manager Scot McCloughan has been every bit as good as advertised, but does he really want to enter the 2017 NFL Draft hoping a late-round gem like Prescott just falls into his lap?

What McCloughan and the rest of Redskins Nation need to realize is that one already has. It’s time to stop looking for reasons Cousins is not the franchise quarterback and just embrace the fact that the long, painful wait for one is over.

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