Kirk Cousins' effort on interception return helps explain his rise

The Pro Bowl doesn’t matter, so whatever a player shows won’t alter the perception of what he can do. Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins hit a couple of throws, drove his team a little.

But one play did reveal quite a bit about Cousins, showing everyone the mentality that has helped land him on the doorstep of a mega-contract. Former Redskin Lorenzo Alexander intercepted a pass that slid through the outstretched hands of tight end Jimmy Graham and, as he was tackled, lateraled the ball to cornerback Aqib Talib.

That’s when Cousins showed what teammates and coaches see in practice, something they often point out about him. He ignored the fact that it was an exhibition and that he has no contract yet for next season, and he sprinted to catch Talib and punched the ball free. (Another thought: Really? He must have had a great angle and Talib must have gotten tired.)

It’s rare when players make such a hustle play in a meaningless game, especially a quarterback. Maybe it’s a bit unwise, too, given the stakes. But Cousins told ESPN’s James Walker after the game that he did so because "I want to win, man." We’ve seen scenes like that in practice, where he exhorts after big plays and chases down guys after bad ones. Teammates will say to him, "Really? It’s like that?" In other words, what are you doing, bro?

But that’s who he is and why he’s risen from a lightly recruited quarterback out of high school to a quality NFL player. It's the same approach he's used to prepare during the season and work on his game out of the season.

One of the appeals with Cousins is that not only has he improved the past two seasons, he has the mindset that won’t be sidetracked by a big new deal. The same can’t be said about every player. They get a little content, a little lazy. (Give cornerback Josh Norman credit: He didn’t alter his work habits after signing a big contract last spring.)

You can argue about how good Cousins is or debate whether he’s worth a certain amount of money. It’s all fair game. You can’t argue whether it matters to him. Quarterbacks need to show more than that, of course, but it’s a good place to start.