The Redskins entered Cleveland Browns Stadium with star rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III inactive with a knee sprain. It didn’t matter.
Rookie backup Kirk Cousins rebounded from an early interception and led Washington to a 38-21 victory in his first NFL start. The Redskins (8-6) have won five straight and are in the thick of the NFC playoff race.
Cleveland’s long-shot playoff hopes evaporated as quickly as they appeared. The Browns (5-9) needed to win out and get a lot of help. They couldn’t manage the former.
Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden threw two interceptions in the pivotal third quarter as the Browns went from leading 14-10 at halftime to trailing 31-14 early in the fourth quarter.
Weeden and the offense were out of rhythm for much of the day, but the Browns had managed a halftime lead. Weeden gave it away with the two interceptions that led to Redskins’ touchdowns.
He was looking for receiver Greg Little on both picks, but a linebacker stepped in front of each. The first came deep in Cleveland territory to open the third quarter, and the second ended a promising drive. Weeden had Little open on the second one but waited too long and underthrew him.
Weeden finished 21-for-35 for 244 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. The TD came on a 69-yarder to Travis Benjamin in the fourth quarter.
The Browns were just as troubled on defense.
They never adjusted to Washington’s play-action fakes, which allowed Cousins time to throw and open receivers to hit. It was a masterful game plan by coach Mike Shanahan and his son Kyle, the offensive coordinator.
Cousins went 26-for-37 for 329 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.