EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The mistakes weren't limited to Kirk Cousins alone, but that's a good place to start. He is the Washington Redskins quarterback and he did replace the one-time future of the franchise. When that's the case, then the target on the back becomes bigger.
So when Cousins has a game in which he has multiple interceptions -- as he has had a few times over the years -- then it provides proof for some that he can't cut it as a starter. Others will say he's still an evolving quarterback. The Redskins will still say he's more confident and a better quarterback than in the past.
The reality is, the past two weeks have really shown who Cousins is. He can be an efficient quarterback who plays well against good defenses. And he can be the guy who throws multiple picks because he tends to force throws.
The question, really, is which game will show up more often? The Redskins can't afford many games like Thursday's.
In the 32-21 loss to the New York Giants, Cousins completed 30 of 49 passes for 316 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. That's now seven times in 16 games that he has thrown multiple picks. In some ways, he's like a finesse pitcher in baseball: When he's on, he's sharp and tough to beat. (See: St. Louis in Week 2.) When he's off, then he could get hit hard early. (See: Thursday night.)
It wasn't just the first interception, it was missing open targets for big plays. His passes were just off and it has now happened to him in consecutive years on Thursday night against New York.
Tight end Jordan Reed beat the safety down the left side, but the pass was underthrown. Later, under duress, Cousins underthrew Reed on a corner route in the end zone when Reed had again beaten the coverage.
"I have to do a better job of that," Reed said. "Maybe I could have drawn a [pass interference]."
Cousins also missed wide-open receiver Ryan Grant on a bootleg pass at about the 10-yard line. To be sure, Cousins made some good plays, but the ones he missed early led to major problems.
Even the interceptions show the good and bad. On the first, it's a timing play and Cousins must throw with anticipation and on time. He did so; Giants corner Prince Amukamara, however, read the play perfectly (the Redskins have run that play countless times from deep in their own territory) and broke before the throw.
"If you don't let that ball go, you're never going to let a ball go, you're never going to complete some of those tight-window throws that you've got to make in this league," Cousins said.
The second? Just a forced throw.
When the run game isn't clicking -- or producing the big plays it did Sunday -- then the quarterback needs to help out. Though the emphasis always will be the run, the Redskins know if they want to accomplish anything this season there will be games when the passing attack must take over.
"You're going to have to throw it at times to win," Cousins said. "You're going to have to do both. We pride ourselves on being balanced and being able to do whatever we're called upon so that we'll continue to be balanced."
While the Redskins did manage 383 yards, they were hardly the offense that showed up for the first two games. The number that matters is not the total yards, it's the four turnovers (including the blocked punt). Keep doing that and any early-season optimism will fade in a hurry.
Again, this isn't all on Cousins. The defense has forced one turnover in three games and didn't do a good enough job getting off the field Thursday. Blocks were missed; Matt Jones fumbled again. But Cousins is the guy who (rightly) happened to replace a popular player in Robert Griffin III.
"We have to do things around him, we can't make this all about the quarterback," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "We have to create turnovers on defense, receivers have to make plays, Kirk has to do better. We all have to do better."
Cousins still gives the Redskins their best chance because of how he can operate in this offense. Just like it would be silly to put him in the Pro Bowl after Sunday's game, it would be foolish to write him off after Thursday's. But it is a reminder that the Redskins really do need to play a certain way to win.
"We know what to expect from Kirk," Redskins center Kory Lichtensteiger said. "Like all of us he'll be very critical on himself, but no one's lost faith in him, or this offense or this team."
It's too early to think otherwise. Cousins will get plenty of chances to prove that he'll be more like he was against the Rams than the Giants. He just has to make it work.