Rookie backup quarterbacks always look good in August. They always seem like they can become saviors for bad teams with a bit of playing time.
But Washington Redskins fans didn't want to see Kirk Cousins this season. Any appearance by the former Michigan State quarterback would mean fellow rookie Robert Griffin III was injured. After the Redskins spent three first-round picks and a second-rounder in April to draft Griffin, fans didn't even dare a random thought about his demise.
But Griffin suffered a mild concussion in the 24-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, taking a helmet to the chin. He didn't know the score or even quarter of the game. By NFL rules, he's out until he passes league concussion tests.
Suddenly, Cousins was warming up on the sideline. His only extended work over the past five weeks has been running the opposing offense and maybe a couple handoffs with the starting offense when Griffin needed a breather. Now he had only minutes to take a few sideline snaps from center Will Montgomery.
Griffin spoiled Redskins fans with his spectacular start. He made everyone forget rookies often play unevenly. Cousins quickly reminded them.
Cousins threw a 77-yard touchdown pass against a busted coverage. A raucous crowd of 75,337 wasn't leaving early. Washingtonians love rookie quarterbacks and especially upset victories. If the Redskins were going to win their first home game in 13 months, everyone was staying to the end of a bitter, rainy afternoon.
But just like Griffin's inexperience showed when he didn't slide early to avoid the hard collision, Cousins followed with two interceptions. The Falcons won 24-17, but fans will chatter all week about the ups and downs of the two passers.
Griffin's return is tricky. While Griffin didn't lose consciousness, recoveries vary. And considering his running style leaves him vulnerable to hits, this concussion is probably only the first. Each can shorten if not end a career and wreck a retirement.
So now the Redskins must wait. Washington coach Mike Shanahan never said Cousins was Plan B when the Redskins took him in the fourth round; he was a controversial selection given the team's extensive needs. There was speculation the Redskins would develop him and trade him for a starter or high draft pick.
But like Griffin, Cousins was better than expected early. He became the surprise backup, while veteran Rex Grossman was No. 3. If Griffin was hurt, Shanahan wanted Cousins.
It took only five games before Griffin was injured following a month of hard hits. Cousins quickly focused, not even checking on his training camp roommate, knowing there just wasn't time.
Cousins looked like most rookies. He found Santana Moss behind the defense for a touchdown. Unfortunately, two interceptions followed.
The Redskins now know what playing Cousins means. Griffin is a natural, perhaps the team's best passer since Sonny Jurgensen retired four decades ago. Cousins could be good, but Griffin can be great.
It wasn't the worst afternoon. Griffin will recover, Cousins will improve and fans eventually will wonder again what each may deliver. Too bad it cost the Redskins a chance at an upset victory to learn so.