Redskins Surprisingly in First Place

12/18/2012, 4:59 p.m.

After a 38-21 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, the Redskins are in first place in the NFC East and in control of their own destiny.

They managed to accomplish this without the services of Robert Griffin III. They were able to get it done because rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins threw two touchdown passes, the defense had two interceptions and the team believed that they could win despite the absence of RGIII.

The Redskins are 8-6 and tied with New York and Dallas for the top spot in the division. However, the Redskins own the tiebreaker because of a better head-to-head record among the three teams. Washington's next two games are against a slumping Philadelphia team and at home against Dallas. The Redskins have a real opportunity to win their first division championship since 1999. Dallas' win over Pittsburgh on Sunday means the Redskins can't clinch the division next week.

Griffin missed Sunday's game in Cleveland because of a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. But Cousins and the defense came up big. Cousins completed 26 of 37 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns. His only blemish was a first quarter interception that led to a Cleveland touchdown. Other than that, Cousins was nearly flawless.

After missing on his first three passes, he got hot. The Redskins began to use a lot more play-action passes and bootleg roll-outs that shredded a defense focused on stopping running back Alfred Morris (27 rushes, 87 yards).

With a rookie quarterback making his first start, the defense needed to step up. The Redskins intercepted quarterback Brandon Weeden twice, and the Browns were only 1-for-4 on third downs in the second half. Rob Jackson's interception on the second play of the third quarter and subsequent 17-yard return to Cleveland's 15 yard line turned the momentum. Rookie running back Morris had a three-yard touchdown run to give the Redskins a 17-14 lead. They never trailed again.

London Fletcher had an interception with Cleveland at the Washington 43 which ended a third-quarter drive. The Redskins took advantage with another touchdown expanding their lead to 31-14.

The Redskins have consistently felt a winning streak was possible after starting the season 3-6. But, the players believe there's a different attitude than in past seasons. It's one that helped them to win without Griffin, who some football experts say deserves MVP consideration.