Cleveland, OH – After leading the Redskins to a come-from- behind win last weekend, rookie Kirk Cousins once again stepped up for Washington in a big way.
Starting in place of injured quarterback Robert Griffin III, Cousins threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns in his first NFL start to help the Redskins claim a 38-21 victory over the Cleveland Browns and a share of first place in the NFC East.
Winners of five straight for the first time since 2005, the Redskins (8-6) find themselves tied for the division lead with the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants after Dallas defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-24, in overtime and the Giants were blown out, 34-0, against the Falcons in Atlanta on Sunday.
Leonard Hankerson hauled in both of Cousins' TD passes, and while Alfred Morris was held under the century mark for the first time in four games, he did rush for 87 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries in the win.
Trent Richardson ran for two scores to set a new franchise record for rookie rushing touchdowns in a season, but only amassed 28 yards on 11 carries as Cleveland (5-9) was denied a chance at its first four-game winning streak since 2009.
"As happy as I've been the last three weeks, standing up here talking about team victories, I think it's safe to say this was a team loss," said Browns coach Pat Shurmur. "I thought we struggled to move the ball effectively throughout the game and I have to credit them for doing that. We knew coming in it would be a challenge."
Brandon Weeden threw for 244 yards and a touchdown, but added two second-half interceptions. He completed 21-of-35 passes in the setback.
Cousins started the game shaky, throwing an early interception which led to a Cleveland score, but had a strong second half and recovered to complete 26- of-37 passes.
"This isn't my first rodeo, I did play a lot of football in the Big Ten," said Cousins. "There are games like that where it starts slow, you got to have character and find it within yourself to dig deep and keep pushing. That's what we did and that's what I'm proud of our team for. We didn't get spooked by a slow start."
Richardson's two rushing scores in the first half gave the Browns a 14-10 edge, but the Redskins' defense came up with two crucial interceptions in the third period to help them score 21 unanswered points.
On the Browns' second play of third quarter, Weeden got picked off by Rob Jackson, who returned it 12 yards to the Cleveland 15 to help set up a score for Washington.
Right after the interception, Cousins found Josh Morgan for 12 yards and two plays later, Morris ran it into the end zone from three yards out to put Washington back in front 17-14.
Then, after a quick Cleveland three-and-out, the Redskins traveled 60 yards on seven plays to score another touchdown.
Cousins completed all four of his passes on the drive, including two to Santana Moss for 17 and 20 yards, respectively, before tossing a 2-yard TD to Hankerson to increase the Redskins' advantage to 24-14.
The Browns found little success on their next two touches. They turned the ball over on downs before Weeden threw his second interception, this time it was London Fletcher who came up with the pick, which set the Redskins up for their fourth touchdown of the day.
Cousins completed a 19-yard pass to Logan Paulsen before finding Pierre Garcon for 15 yards to get inside the Cleveland 30. Two plays after Cousins scrambled for nine yards, Evan Royster bounced off the left tackle for a 4-yard score to give the Redskins a 31-14 lead early in the fourth.
Cleveland finally responded with a touchdown, as Weeden connected with Travis Benjamin on third down for a 69-yard score to make it a two-possession game, however the Redskins answered right back to put the contest out of reach.
Morris scored his second touchdown of the day on an 8-yard rush to account for the final margin. On the first play of the 76-yard drive, Morgan hauled in a 32-yard grab to position the Redskins in Cleveland territory.
Washington struggled early offensively, as Cousins was unable to help the Redskins pick up a first down on any of their first four possessions.
His pass on their second series was tipped and deflected into the hands of T.J. Ward, who returned the interception 28 yards to the Washington six.
On the very next play, Richardson fought his way into the end zone on a carry for his 10th rushing score of the season, giving Cleveland the early lead. His score broke the club record set by Hall of Famer Jim Brown in 1957 for most rushing touchdowns in a rookie campaign.
The Redskins evened the game late in the first following a short punt from the Browns. On the first play of the series, Cousins rolled out off play action and launched a deep pass to Hankerson, who hauled in the catch for a 54-yard score.
After failing on their first five third down conversions, the Redskins finally picked one up in the second quarter on a Cousins dump off to Royster, who scampered 25 yards to help set up Kai Forbath for a 44-yard field goal, giving Washington a 10-7 edge.
However, the Browns would re-take the lead just before halftime. Off play- action, Weeden found Greg Little for 30 yards to reach the Washington 23. Josh Cribbs then took a direct snap 16 yards and three plays later, Richardson powered past the goal line from one yard out for his second score of the day, giving the Browns a 13-10 halftime lead.
The Redskins have won six of the past eight matchups between the two teams ... The Browns fell to 17-7 all-time at home against Washington ... The Redskins totaled 430 yards of offense compared to 291 for the Browns.