KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins had a decision to make, one that he knew he'd think about on the plane ride home. One that might haunt him for a few days, or a little longer. But the same play also came oh so close to showing what the Redskins' offense can become now that he's throwing to Josh Doctson more often.
The play occurred on a third-and-2 with 57 seconds left in Washington's 29-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. At the time, they trailed by only three points. They had driven down the field, hoping to cap the drive with a touchdown and, perhaps, a win.
In the past, the play likely would have been an automatic pass to the other side. The Redskins went with their favored three-by-one alignment, with tight end Jordan Reed singled up wide to the right. Cousins loves throwing to Reed, particularly in a clutch situation. Reed had an outside release and solo coverage with a safety down the middle. He probably could have hit him.
Instead, Cousins turned back to a guy he has just started to click with: Doctson, the second-year pro and 2016 first-round pick. It's not as though they've had been overly productive together, but Doctson is capable of making excellent catches. There was the acrobatic 52-yard touchdown catch against Oakland last week.
On Monday, Doctson caught only two passes for 27 yards but one of them was a diving 20-yard grab, the sort of play that results in confidence.
"I just took my chance with Josh," Cousins said.
Reed was the first look.
"We had a double move to Jordan. He actually won, but Kirk thought he was doubled by the safety and he worked Josh," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "He made a great opportunity to throw the football for Josh. Josh almost had it. He made an unbelievable effort for the ball."
Yes, he did. Doctson turned as he jumped for the ball, grabbed it only to have it squirt free as he hit the ground. Technically, a drop; it would have been a terrific catch.
"He has a [vertical] that's out of this world and it showed," Redskins corner Josh Norman said. "His time will come again to make that play and I know he'll make it 110 percent. … You'll be immortalized. Seriously. You make that play and it's ballgame."
Instead, it's second-guess time for Cousins.
"The safety came down low and was just looking to double anyone that came across the middle," Cousins said. "We didn't complete it, but that's where you go back on the plane ride home. You talk about, 'Could I have worked Jordan? Should I have worked Jordan?' Those are the games you play always, whether you win or lose. Certainly, after a tough loss like this you're going to go back and have some hindsight there and look at what you could've done."
The soothing aspect for Cousins: He goes home to his son, born Friday, making this an emotional weekend. It was nearly a perfect ending. Nearly.
But the flip-side is what this could mean for the future. Doctson is starting to flash his talent in the games, after displaying it in practice. What he's starting to do now doesn't surprise a single person at Redskins Park.
However, it has been a tough road for him thus far in Washington because he hasn't done what has been expected, thanks largely to injuries. He hasn't felt like sharing much with the media and, really, who can blame him? Most of what anyone wants to know always boils down to some variation of: How is the latest injury? And are you frustrated with not doing more? So Doctson has been polite, but reticent.
If the Redskins' offense is going to do a whole lot, it must get more from Doctson and Terrelle Pryor, who had three catches for 70 yards -- one for a 44-yard score. Doctson, though, is important, so the fact that Cousins looked for him on a pivotal play could be something to watch after the bye week.
The Redskins lost and you can't assume to know yet what this game means. They've had a rougher-than-anticipated stretch to open the season. The teams they've played have a combined record of 12-4, yet the Redskins are 2-2. The future will reveal exactly who they are. For now, if they are to build on this loss offensively, it'll have to be off their start and the final drive. Toss out most of the rest in between.
That final drive was led by Cousins, showing the poise and confidence he discussed throughout camp. He operated calmly in a tense environment; he kept the ball alive when he scrambled, creating more room to run. Maybe he should have thrown to Reed. Had he done so, maybe the Redskins would have won.
The key, now, though, is to keep trying to connect with Doctson. At some point, it's going to be worth it for Washington. If not, the offense just won't go where it must.