ASHBURN, Va. (AP) - Kirk Cousins had an out-of-this-world second half. Now if he could only get a decent locker.
Just in case he needed any reminder of his place in the pecking order among the Washington Redskins rookie quarterbacks, all Cousins had to do on Monday was walk up to his small, metal, temporary stall in the middle of the locker room. It's only a few feet from Robert Griffin III's more spacious, permanent spot against the wall.
"This is Robert's team," Cousins said. "This is Robert's opportunity. The coaches have made that very clear, and it's my job to do the best I can in my situation and with my opportunities, and that's what I'm trying to do."
For now, those opportunities are guaranteed to come only in August - during preseason games, mostly after Griffin and the rest of the starters are done for the night. Mopping up during Saturday's 33-31 loss to the Chicago Bears, Cousins played the second half and put up some eye-popping numbers: 18 for 23, 264 yards, three touchdowns, a 154.1 rating.
"Preseason games, right now, are my Super Bowl," Cousins said.
And it shows. Cousins said he told his fellow backups at halftime: "Let's go down swinging." He then led a spirited rally that nearly won the game after the Redskins trailed by 20 in the third quarter.
"We're all fighting for recognition," he said. "When we're playing in the second half, we have a lot to play for, regardless of the score. And I told the guys: 'We're working right now. We can sleep on the plane. We can sleep tomorrow. We're working right now, and I want a good tempo at the line of scrimmage. I want our offensive line to be the aggressors and wear down that defense.' And I feel we were able to do that."
Cousins threw a school-record 66 touchdown passes at Michigan State, but he had to recalibrate his NFL thinking when the Redskins (No. 25 in the AP Pro32) selected him in the fourth round of the draft in April. Washington had already picked Griffin at No. 2 overall and declared the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor as the new face of the franchise.
So, no matter how he plays in these August games, Cousins is pegged to spend the next few regular seasons holding a clipboard on the sideline while RGIII does his thing.
"I have a long view in mind," said Cousins, who signed a standard four-year rookie contract. "I've said it from the start that if I'm someday going to be as good as I hope to be, then I'll get an opportunity. And if I'm not good enough, then I won't. But I shouldn't get that opportunity if I'm not good enough. I need to develop day-in and day-out, get better and better, and if at some point the coaches here, the coaches elsewhere, feel like they see something in me that merits being a starting quarterback, I'll get that opportunity."
In that sense, Cousins can draw inspiration from players such as Aaron Rodgers, a first-round pick who toiled for three years as Brett Favre's backup with the Green Bay Packers before getting the starting job and eventually leading the team to a Super Bowl title. The upside to such a career path is that Cousins quietly has time to develop better pro habits - improved footwork, how best to read blitzes, etc. - while Griffin will have a very public trial-by-fire over 16-game seasons.
"Part of being a professional is that I don't have to go to chemistry class in the morning," said Cousins, who graduated in December with a degree in kinesiology. "I'm here and I'm working on my fundamentals, and I think you can become a better quarterback as a result."
While Cousins isn't in the running for the starting job, Shanahan has said that Cousins and veteran Rex Grossman will contend for the No. 2 spot. Still, it would take a great leap of faith for a coach to go with rookies as his top two quarterbacks.
It's also worth reiterating that Cousins didn't have to face a first-string pass rush or secondary during his stellar performance against the Bears. NFL history is flush with quarterbacks who put up good numbers against players who didn't make the final cuts at the end of preseason.
"I think you can also look at the guys around you," Cousins said. "I'm playing with rookie offensive linemen. I'm playing with rookie wide receivers, rookie running backs. If I'm playing in the first quarter, I'm playing with veteran wide receivers, veteran linemen, veteran running backs, so there's a tradeoff there."
"But you're absolutely right," he added. "I didn't play against Brian Urlacher, and I understand that."