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Gruden's choice to start Cousins tops coaching decisions

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The Washington Redskins were a unanimous pick to finish last in the NFC East before Jay Gruden picked Kirk Cousins to start over RG3.

They were a laughingstock after the decision.

They're NFC East champions because of it.

Gruden's choice to make Cousins the No. 1 quarterback paid off. The Redskins (8-7) went from worst to first and won the division for the first time since Robert Griffin III led them to the playoffs in his rookie year in 2012.

Cousins has been outstanding down the stretch, helping Washington win three straight games. He's thrown for 3,990 yards, 26 touchdowns and has a 99.3 passer rating. Meanwhile, Griffin spent the season in street clothes as the No. 3 QB.

Here are some of the best coaching decisions during the 2015 NFL season:

TAKE A SEAT, MR. MANNING: Benching Peyton Manning might be the toughest move any coach could make. Doing it at home the same day Manning broke Brett Favre's career mark for passing yards made it more difficult for Broncos coach Gary Kubiak. The fact Manning was injured eased the process. Kubiak's call to go with Brock Osweiler paid off. The Broncos (11-4) have a chance to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC, though a loss could drop them to the sixth seed.

Osweiler has had some struggles, but his best performances came under pressure against top teams. He led Denver to comeback wins against New England and Cincinnati. The old Manning could've done it. The broken-down, 39-year-old Manning had no chance.

KICKOFF PAYOFF: It's a rare and gutsy move to win a coin toss in overtime and give the opponent the ball first. But Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had enough faith in his defense and valued the wind so much that he did just that against St. Louis in November. Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein nailed a 61-yard field goal with the wind at his back at blustery TCF Bank Stadium earlier in the game and made a 53-yarder to send it to OT.

Minnesota's defense held, Adrian Peterson ran them into field-goal range and Blair Walsh hit a 40-yarder to win it.

TRICK OR TREAT: The Patriots were up 7-0 on Washington when coach Bill Belichick decided to bury the Redskins early with an onside kick. It worked and Tom Brady gave New England a 14-0 lead before Cousins and Washington's offense ran a second play from scrimmage. The Patriots went on to win 27-10 to reach 8-0.

GOING FOR IT: The Saints trailed the New York Giants 49-42 with 5:51 left and faced a fourth-and-1 at their 29. Most coaches would punt in that situation because there was enough time to get another possession if the defense held. But Sean Payton didn't play it safe. Mark Ingram ran 2 yards to keep the drive going, and Drew Brees capped it with his seventh TD pass, a 9-yard toss to C.J. Spiller to tie it. The defense forced a three-and-out and New Orleans won on a last-second field goal.

FAKES ARE FOR BACKUPS: A fake field goal set the tone for the Saints in a 27-21 win at Indianapolis in October. On fourth-and-9 from the Colts 26 in the first quarter, kicker Kai Forbath swung through with his right leg as holder Luke McCown pulled the ball away, rolled out and tossed a 25-yard pass to Ben Watson. Khiry Robinson then ran in from the 1 to give New Orleans a 7-0 lead and the Saints led 27-0 before holding off Andrew Luck's rally. Beware backup quarterbacks used as holders.


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