ASHBURN, Va. (AP) Without a trace of irony or attempt at humor, Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins recounted his thoughts from a decade or so ago when asked Thursday about of his upcoming start against the Dallas Cowboys in front of a national television audience.
Does he reflect at all on the enormity of the moment?
''It'd be a shame if I didn't,'' Cousins began Thursday, ''because I remember sitting out as a high school kid and staying up late with friends, and you're just kind of looking out at the stars and you make a wish on a shooting star - and my wish was to play in the NFL.''
Earnest as can be, Cousins continued: ''So the fact that you get to live that dream, you forget ... because you're so involved in the job and the task at hand and trying to be as good as you can be.
But there's no doubt that I feel like I'm living a dream, and to be on `Monday Night Football' - knowing that there will be people back in my hometown of Holland, Michigan, watching me play ... - (is) a thrill.''
In his fourth NFL season, the fourth-round draft pick out of Michigan State has held onto the job he earned in the preseason, relegating Robert Griffin III - the No. 2 overall pick in the same draft - to third-string duty.
And Cousins has established a clear pattern: When he protects the football, his team wins. The Redskins, who are tied for the NFC East lead, are 5-0 in the games in which Cousins did not throw a single interception, and 0-6 when he has been picked off at least once.
At home, in particular, Cousins has done well.
The Redskins have won five in a row at home heading into Monday's game against division rival Dallas (3-8 and without injured quarterback Tony Romo), and during that streak, Cousins has thrown 10 touchdown passes and zero interceptions, run for another three TDs, and completed 127 of 167 passes (76 percent) for 1,436 yards, earning a 121.2 passer rating.
''He's still working to get better, but you can just see him making better and better decisions and not forcing the ball into crowds,'' Washington coach Jay Gruden said.
''Just overall playing the position - snap count, getting the team out of the huddle - just everything that the quarterback has to do that people don't even realize. Everybody thinks it's a passing game and he's judged by completion percentage, but there's so much more the quarterback has to do that he's getting better at. ... It's still a work in progress, but he's doing good.''
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett offered praise for Cousins, too.
''What impresses everybody the most about him is that whenever he's gotten opportunities, really throughout his career, he seems like he's prepared and takes advantage of them,'' Garrett said.
''He's had his ups and downs like everybody does, but he's a smart football player. You can tell he's talented. He can throw the ball, he can move around and he plays the game the right way. He's certainly done a good job for them this year.''
Notes: Gruden said LB Will Compton ''has cemented his role as a starter,'' in place of Keenan Robinson. ... A total of 11 players either sat out practice entirely on Thursday or were limited, including starting LB Perry Riley Jr., who sprained his foot and was scheduled to have an MRI, and starting DE Chris Baker, who ''had an illness that's going around a little bit,'' Gruden said. ... Among those also missing practice: TE Derek Carrier (ankle, Achilles), S Dashon Goldson (knee, hamstring, wrist), WR Andre Roberts (knee). ''Yeah, we were short-handed today, a little bit,'' Gruden said.
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