With the game hanging in the balance in Buffalo, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins decided to throw it on fourth-and-18 to catch receiver Justin Jefferson. And it worked.
With the season hanging in the balance in the wildcard round against the Giants on fourth-and-eight, Cousins decided not to throw it Jefferson’s way.
After the 31-24 loss, Cousins explained the decision to throw the sticks short to TJ Hockenson. The Giants stopped Hockenson just short of the line to win.
“[I] saw lonely high [safety]Cousins told reporters that he was trying to work Justin, it didn’t feel right to do that with Justin, and when I progressed, I just felt like I was going to get fired, and I felt like I had to. put the ball in play and I can’t come down with a sack so I thought I’d throw it out to TJ I had thrown the sticks short a few times during the game and even going back a few weeks and it just felt like just short of the sticks throwing up isn’t the end of the world. It’s just obviously a solid cover, so I didn’t have a chance to leave. But I just felt like I was going to go down and get a bag if I didn’t put it out.”
Cousins added that the deep safety overshadowed Jefferson.
“Most of the day they were moving to Justin,” Cousins said.
Coach Kevin O’Connell took the blame for the play being called.
“I could have done a better job at this point,” O’Connell told reporters. “He knew it was fourth down and he didn’t just want to, he wanted to make sure he put the ball in play. I have to go back. I was watching some of the routes down the field to kind of materialize and the pocket may or may not collapse on him and he just wanted to make sure he gave somebody a chance and they made a play. Had some double coverage on Justin on that drive and try to have KJ [Osborne] come alive trying to have Adam [Thielen] bring to life. We will go into this at length. Our two-minute offense has been pretty good all season, which has helped us, and in the end we didn’t get it done with that drive, and it felt pretty drastic the way it happened.”
Obviously O’Connell had no idea the ball was going short of the sticks.
“The goal as a punter is you’re not going to call a primary concept where somebody can’t get sticks, especially on fourth down,” O’Connell said. “If it’s third-down and you can catch it, convert it and make it fourth-and-two or three, that’s good. But yeah, looking back on it, maybe I could have been a little bit more; But I want Kirk to be able to play. I want him to be free there to make good decisions. He did all night. Moved by our team. Stood there with the ball out of his hands in rhythm. It just so happens that it went down, we just didn’t get enough of the play, regardless. In the end, I look at how much it cost me that game call, even though we had the right to have a chance on the field. Maybe. There’s always a play that could be better for your guys out there, and that one will stick with me.”
Arguably, Cousins should have given Jefferson a chance regardless of the coverage. The cousins also seemed to have more time. He seemed to panic a bit, panic enough to make a bad decision in the moment.
It’s sad, but it happened. And if the Vikings are denied a chance to force overtime or win it with a touchdown and two-point conversion.