The Redskins went into last offseason determined to find a long-term solution at quarterback. They just may have found two.
And just as Shanahan trusted his gut on draft day, he tabbed Cousins the starter for Sunday's game against the Browns, resting Griffin III's ailing knee for a playoff run.
"[Cousins has] got a lot of confidence and you can see that in practice," Shanahan said post game. "He knew it was a challenge, and I thought he stepped up and just got more comfortable as the game went on."
Cousins got off to a rough start, completing only one of his first six passes for four yards, while throwing his third interception in 14 career passes and taking a sack.
A start like that can rattle a young quarterback's confidence, but that wasn't the case for Cousins.
"This isn’t my first rodeo," he said with a smile. "I did play a lot of football in the Big Ten. I had games like that where you start slow and you’ve got to have character. You’ve got to find it within yourself to dig deep and keep pushing and that’s what we did.
"That’s what I’m proud of my team for - the way we didn’t get spooked by a slow start."
The offense finally clicked on a 54-yard touchdown strike to receiver
Shanahan was not surprised to see Cousins bounce back from the slow start, but was impressed with his judgment in the quick-strike play.
"He got out of the pocket with that quarterback keeper and threw a perfect strike to Hankerson," Shanahan recalled. "Not a lot of guys can make that read, and all of a sudden [Cousins] comes out and he’s breakking containment, he looks at the tight end and he’s covered and there is a small window going to Hankerson as the free safety jumped up.
"He made a perfect throw and that kind of gets you started. We needed that play at that time."
Cousins went on to throw for 329 yards, which is most of any quarterback this season, and the most by a Redskins rookie quarterback dating back to Ed Rubbert's 334 as replacement player in 1987.
This capped off a whirlwind 24 hours for Cousins, who was not aware that he would start until meeting with coaches on Saturday night.
"Last night in our quarterback meeting we have every Saturday night. They made it clear," he said. "Obviously throughout the week I knew there was a strong possibility, but it was last night that I found out."
This after Cousins took the majority of his snaps with the starting offense this week, as coaches tweaked the game plan to fit his strengths.
Fellow quarterback Robert Griffin III made it clear that he would have rather played today, but liked what he saw from the offense in his absence.
The Redskins abandoned the Pistol formation today, but Cousins didn't find the game plan to be all that different.
“You don’t see the zone read as often, you don’t see the defenses as concerned about my ability to run, obviously. Aside from that, they're very similar I think," he explained. "I think as much as Robert wants to show people he can be a pocket passer, which he can, I want to show people that I can move around a little bit. I think I did that a little bit today.
"We both have our strengths, and coaches are going to try and utilize them the best they can."
Shanahan agreed with his quarterback's assessment.
"We’re always going to put a game plan together that we think fits the players that are playing. So whoever it is, a tight end, wide receiver, quarterback, we are going to make adjustments and I thought he did a great job."
The coaching staff gave every indication that if cleared to play, Griffin III will resume in his role as the starting quarterback next week against the Philadelphia Eagles.
This would push Cousins back to reserve duty, but will not change the way he prepares for the game.
"I’ve been preparing all season as if I were going to play, knowing that I’m one play away," he said. "Obviously today we got the result we wanted."