LANDOVER, Md. -- The referendum arrives after every game, sometimes with each pass: Pay Kirk Cousins! Don't pay him! He's worth a bundle. He's not worth much of anything.
But the truth with Cousins is this: He's capable of struggling but also of producing huge nights. That's why those who made up their minds on Cousins a while ago haven't really changed. Each side can offer proof as to why they think the way they do.
However, if Cousins strings together more nights like Sunday, a lot of minds could change. He played one of the best games of his career, leading the Washington Redskins to a 27-10 win over the Oakland Raiders. He beat a good team in a prime-time game (much like he did a year ago against the Green Bay Packers) and was the best passer on the field.
Derek Carr received the big contract in the offseason -- and two weeks ago, Cousins' critics would have said he shouldn't receive one that's comparable. But it was Cousins who starred, completing 25 of 30 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns. Three of those incompletions hit receivers hands and were dropped or jarred free. It might have been the most accurate Cousins has been.
“We don't even talk about dollars,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said earlier in the week. “That would never come up with any of these guys, so it's not an issue. It won't be an issue. Ever.”
After the game, Gruden clearly liked what he witnessed all night.
"You can look at the yards and say, obviously, I like the yards and completion percentage, but there were some decisions that Kirk made that were equally as impressive," Gruden said. "Not forcing the ball; running the ball when we had a couple of bad looks, protecting the football. He really managed the game perfectly. He made some big-time throws, the receivers made some plays for him, so all around I was very impressed with the entire offense."
But what they would discuss is how close they believed Cousins was to having a big game. During the week, multiple coaches said Cousins was “this close” as he was getting more in sync with the receivers. They felt they could contain the Raiders' pass rush because of their tackles, Trent Williams and Morgan Moses. But it was also the precision they started to see last week on the final drive against the Los Angeles Rams.
"Kirk is one of the better quarterbacks in the league," Redskins running back Chris Thompson said. "It's on us as running backs, receivers, offensive line. ... Just win our matchups and Kirk is going to get us the ball. He's such a great quarterback. I knew it was about time for him to have a big game."
When receivers cut, the ball would arrive. When he threw downfield, he gave his best deep threat, Josh Doctson, a chance. In practice, Cousins and Doctson had started to connect. Sunday, Doctson made a leaping catch over former Redskins corner David Amerson and ran in to complete a 52-yard score.
"I'm going to give him a chance because they've been asking me to give him that chance," Cousins said of Doctson. "It was scary when it left my hand. ... Josh made me right, but that play can go either way, you know? That's why this game is so tough."
Another time, Cousins stood in the pocket and patted the ball, then did it again. He didn't hurry himself, trusted the protection and allowed the receiver to break free -- then delivered a strike to Jamison Crowder. Because Cousins hit him in stride, it enabled Crowder to run after the catch for 30 more yards.
Like Gruden said, he managed well. That's what Cousins focused on in the offseason. The result: Hitting Thompson on a blitz that he took for a 22-yard touchdown pass.
"By knowing how to manage situations and making decisions based on what I am coached to do and how the game is being played," Cousins said.
Cousins and the Redskins' offense did all this without his one-time security blanket -- tight end Jordan Reed. Since becoming a starter at the beginning of the 2015 season, Cousins owns a 119.6 passer rating when targeting Reed. But during that same span, the Redskins were 2-4 without him.
The Redskins have plenty of other weapons and Cousins used them, completing passes to eight receivers. Doctson can develop into a dangerous threat. And Thompson has been their best offensive player, by far. In the end, Cousins did his job. In doing so, he proved his worth. Until that worth is debated again next week.