Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, eyes the receiver during NFL football practice at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Manuel Balce Ceneta
January 06, 2016

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) Looking mighty spiffy in his Washington Redskins retro, ketchup-and-mustard-colored, Starter pullover jacket, Kirk Cousins strode to the podium on Wednesday to speak to reporters about his first NFL postseason start.

''Well, I didn't do a press conference before the last playoff game,'' Cousins noted with a smile, referring to his role as the backup to Robert Griffin III when both were rookies in 2012.

''It has a different feel being the starting quarterback, (but) you just try to stay focused on the same processes I have all year long. I'd be a fool to change something now.''

Truth is, of course, Cousins has changed quite a bit over the course of this season. He went from a turnover-prone, second-guessing player to a guy who is considered one of the Redskins' strengths as the NFC East champions (9-7) head into their wild-card game against the visiting Green Bay Packers (10-6) on Sunday.

A significant factor in the fourth-round draft pick's improvement has been the group of receivers he has at his disposal - and a willingness to let those pass-catchers use their talents to help him.

''He seems more confident and aggressive on the field. Before, you weren't really expecting him to throw the ball in tight, tight situations,'' tight end Jordan Reed said.

''Now that he's feeling good, he's fitting those balls in tight coverage, and giving us a chance to make plays.''

In addition to Reed, whose 87 catches, 952 yards and 11 TDs all topped the team in the regular season, Cousins has developed quite a rapport with speedy-as-they-come wideout DeSean Jackson, right-place-right-time receiver Pierre Garcon and rookie slot man Jamison Crowder.

''The first thing they've done to help is they get open,'' Cousins said. ''They're talented, but they work hard. They prepare hard during the week. They communicate well with me. And all of that leads to success on Sundays.

''I feel very fortunate to have the group of receivers that I have to work with, because it makes my job as a distributor a lot easier.''

He sure made it look easy over the second half of the season. Looking just at the past 10 weeks, Cousins threw 23 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

In all, he led the NFL with a 69.8 completion rate and ranked fifth in passer rating at 101.6, ahead of more-heralded QBs such as Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, New Orleans' Drew Brees and Carolina's Cam Newton.

''Everybody, in general, has a better feel of where to go, how to get there,'' Redskins coach Jay Gruden said, ''and Kirk is doing a great job of knowing who to get it to.''

Reed, who led NFC tight ends in catches, is the go-to player who certainly appears to be impossible for defenders to cover, especially if a linebacker or safety is left to try to deal with him.

Jackson is one of the league's top deep threats.

''As far as the success that me and Kirk have had, it's just really been building trust and just knowing where I'm going to be at,'' said Jackson, whose 77-yard TD against Buffalo in Week 15 was his 20th score of at least 60 yards, tied for third-most in NFL history. ''I'm just doing my job, he's doing his job, and we're having fun doing it and winning at the same time.''

Notes: No one missed practice; CB Dashaun Phillips (stinger) was a full participant. ... A day after being activated off IR, C Kory Lichtensteiger (neck) got back in the flow of things, getting in some extra hitting after the formal practice ended. ''A couple of the practice squad D-linemen were nice enough to put the pads on and bang around a little bit with me,'' he said. ''We didn't go too extreme with it, but it's kind of necessary to feel that.''



AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: www.twitter.com/AP-NFL


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