SECOND (STRING) COUSINS: Kirk Cousins came off the bench Sunday during a crucial last-minute drive to prove that Washington had not one but two very talented rookie quarterbacks. Photo courtesy Rob Carr/Getty Images

A fumble. A blown call. A clutch touchdown. Every week the action in the NFL forces the headlines around the league to change. To evolve. A cold team becomes a hot team. A hot team slips up. Someone one is one game closer to the playoffs and someone is one game closer to their season being over. These are the weekly notes on the trends and other happenings from around the league after every weekend.

Captain Kirk

Let’s flashback to April for a minute. Mike Shanahan and company made a seemingly uncontroversial pick in the fourth round, taking Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins. Said Shanahan to the signal caller, “I just couldn’t pass you up this late.”

And almost immediately, the pundits were tearing apart the pick. Instant quarterback controversy, they said. Does Shanahan really trust RG3? Maybe he hates black quarterbacks. I mean first McNabb and now this? Yeah, the one thing that’s definitely NOT happening here is a Super Bowl-winning coach adding depth to the most important position in the game.

Redskins fans had their own gripes with the pick. They have so many holes, they said, how can they afford to take a SECOND quarterback? We need more bodies for the O-line. We need to replace Landry. We need another undersized receiver that can’t go up and get jump balls.

So it was on the most unlikeliest of drives that everything worked itself out. Kirk Cousins came into the game. Not because RG3 was stinking up the joint, but because he was injured. And, in a word? He was sensational.

In the most dire of moments for the Redskins, Cousins led the Redskins not only to a last-minute touchdown but a game-tying 2-point conversion. The call? A designed quarterback draw, as if he was paying homage to the first-stringer he replaced.

The lesson here is twofold. First, not everything causes drama just because we want it two. Kirk Cousins and Robert Griffin III we’re not competitors on Sunday, but brothers in arms. And second, sometimes, every once in a while, a team knows what they’re doing when they make a draft pick.

We analyze and over analyze decisions in the NFL, but on the second Sunday in December, that controversial quarterback selection in the fourth round handed a team in desperate pursuit of the playoffs a much-needed victory.

How many others in the class can say THAT 14 weeks into their career?

 

BRADY BUNCH: Tom Brady and crew are clicking, which means the other 31 teams are worrying. Photo courtesy Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Patriot Missiles

I think we can officially lay down to rest the notion that this is a down year for the Patriots. If anything, this New England club has proven to me that their markedly better than they were last year.

Even with the Gronk out of action, the Patriots’ high-octane offense hasn’t missed a beat. After last night’s thumping of the now 2-loss Texans, New England boasts the most potent offense by a comfortable margin.

The real difference here is how much the defense has improved. They still give up a ton of yardage (27th in the league), but their ability to turn over the ball and score off of turnovers gives their top-ranked offense even a further edge.

So just toss out all that “panic” talk at the beginning of the season. It was nothing more than a sluggish start. This New England team will be in the postseason and that’s very, very bad news for other contenders. Especially in the AFC.

At 10-3, the Patriots are now just a game behind the team they defeated, the Texans, for the best record in the conference. Let last night serve as a perfect example of just how “on” New England will be when they play at home on a big stage. If they can run down the Texans and nab home field advantage throughout the playoffs, they will very easily be the team to beat.

Razing Arizona

Hey, remember when the Cardinals we’re 4-0 and some tool bag who writes these articles considered them legitimate?

Obviously those days are long gone. After the thumping they took at the hands of Seattle on Sunday, they not only look like a team deserving of the losing record they clinched as they accrued their ninth loss, they’re making a strong case as one of the worst football teams in the league.

The team has innumerable holes, but I can’t help but to feel it all begins and ends at the quarterback play. Just look at the Redskins, for example. Outside of Robert Griffin III, this team is not markedly more talented than the one last year, especially with guys like Orakpo and Fred Davis out for the year. And yet, the club has already two more wins than they did last year with three very winnable games left to play.

That’s what a bona fide, face-of-the-franchise quarterback brings to the table. The Cardinals have tried to dance around this problem for quite some time. They brought in the veteran Mark Warner, and that worked pretty well, but that experiment and an expiration date on it from the very day they signed him. Then they brought in the Eagles’ sloppy seconds, Kevin Kolb, and rather than transforming them into a competitive team, the former second-round draft pick has been subjugated to a carousel of sorts with two quarterbacks out of Fordham and San Diego State.

If I were the Cardinals, I would ride this nine-game losing streak all the way to 4-12 and a premium draft pick. They’re not going to find an RG3 or Andrew Luck at the top of the draft because, well, those guys are once-in-a-generation talents. But in a quarterback class that thins out very quickly after Matt Barkley and Geno Smith, they’re going to need to pursue a more permanent answer at the game’s most premium position aggressively.

 

CIRCLING (THE DRAIN) PATTERN: The Jets aren’t out of it yet, but they certainly aren’t playing like a playoff team, either. Photo courtesy Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

No Boos is Good Boos

Here’s the bad news for the Jets: while they are technically still in the playoff race, that forgettable game against a horrendous Jacksonville team did nothing to convince anyone that this team is going anywhere. In fact, between them and the Bucs, they are definitely the worst 6-7 team in the league, and I’d even throw some 5-8 clubs ahead of them.

The good part for the Jets was that they got to play this game on the road, so all their lackluster play actually garnered a few cheers for once.

Like I said, if this team wins out, they can finish 9-7 with a shot at the playoffs. But if Fireman Ed has given up on this team, just who exactly IS on the bandwagon?

If you are still a member of the mean green faithful, here’s what you hang your hat on. First, the Jets have actually won three of their last four games. The wins have just been so ugly, it hasn’t felt like they were games to celebrate. Second, the Jets remaining schedule is very manageable. Pretty or not, this team generally finds a way to post a ‘W’ on the teams that they are more talented then. The last three teams on the docket, the Titans, Chargers, and Bills, fit that criteria.

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NOTE: This story was originally posted on SportsHead. To read this article and others click here.
When Bryan isn’t writing, he is on Twitter! Make sure to give him a follow @bclienesch for NFL updates and other shenanigans!

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