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Behind Kirk Cousins, Redskins move into first place in NFC East

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Kirk Cousins leads Redskins to win in first start (USA Today Sports Images)

With NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate Robert Griffin sidelined with a sprained knee, Washington Redskins backup QB Kirk Cousins passed for 329 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Leonard Hankerson in his first NFL start as the Redskins cruised to a 38-21 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

The Redskins, who were 3-6 coming out of their bye in Week 11, have won five straight. With the New York Giants losing 34-0 to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, the Redskins will enter Week 16 in first place in the NFC East as they possess a better record within the division than the Giants and hold the head-to-head and divisional record tiebreakers over the Dallas Cowboys, who could also be 8-6 after Sunday's action.

Cousins entered Week 15 with 137 passing yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in 20 NFL snaps under his belt. Predictably, Cousins' first start did not get off to a great start.

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The former Michigan State standout was 0-for-3 to open the game with his third attempt tipped by cornerback Sheldon Brown and intercepted by safety T.J. Ward. Ward  returned the ball to the Redskins' 6-yard line to set up a touchdown run by Trent Richardson that gave the Browns a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter. Cousins was sacked by defensive end Jabaal Sheard as the Redskins went three-and-out on the following drive, and the rookie was 0-for-2 on the next possession, also a three-and-out.

On the opening play of the Redskins' fifth possession of the opening quarter, Cousins hit Hankerson for a 54-yard touchdown to tie the score 7-7. Cousins would use an excellent play-fake to hit Hankerson for a 2-yard score that gave the Redskins a 24-14 lead midway through the third quarter.

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Cousins finished 26-of-37 -- a 70.3 completion percentage that allowed him to finish with a passer rating of 104.4. While he won't be confused with the electrifying Griffin, Cousins added 22 yards on three carries, including 17 yards on a second-quarter scramble. Not only did Cousins' performance on Sunday validate the Redskins' decision to select him in the fourth round, knowing they can win with him allows them to not rush Griffin back into the starting lineup.

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