MINNEAPOLIS – This season has felt different for Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. His team had 13 regular season wins, the most of his career. In Kevin O’Connell, he connected with a coach he trusted to throw him more passes than he’d ever thrown, with fewer schematic guards than he’d ever faced.
In the end, however, Cousins found himself in a familiar position Sunday at US Bank Stadium, going home to the offseason without a playoff win. The Vikings’ 31-24 loss to the New York Giants was his third career loss in four postseason games, and it’s one he says hurt him on a new level.
“It hurts,” Cousins said. “I am sorry: I’m probably missing one, but this is probably the worst loss I’ve had in my career.”
When asked why, he said at first. “All the obvious reasons.”
Cousins later elaborated a bit, citing the Vikings’ success in the regular season and the possibility that some pending free agents, including center Garrett Bradbury and quarterback Alexander Mathison, could leave this offseason.
“Thirteen wins, I’ve never really smelled it before,” Cousins said. “And just the fact that the group, Garrett and Alex, who are … free agents that aren’t guaranteed to come back, I think it’s hard to get off the field.”
In some ways, Cousins put together his best game of the season Sunday. He completed 31 of 31 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns while also running for a third down, and posted his best Total QBR of the season (85.2).
Overall, he had a strange year in his first season with O’Connell. On the one hand, he threw a career-high 14 interceptions and finished with a career-low QBR of 49.8. On the other hand, he led eight fourth-quarter comebacks in the Vikings’ NFL-record 11 one-point winning streak, and he had a chance for another Sunday against the Giants.
But the game was essentially over when Cousins threw the sticks short to TJ Hockenson near midfield on fourth-and-8. Giants safety Xavier McKinney hit Hockenson for a 3-yard gain with 1:44 remaining.
Asked what made the decision to throw to Hawkenson rather than receiver Justin Jefferson or another vertical threat, Cousins said: then when I went forward I just felt like I was going to put away and I felt like I had to play the ball. I can’t get down with the sack so I thought I’d give it a shot. out TJ
“On a few different occasions during the game, I’ve thrown the sticks short, and even going back a few weeks, I felt like throwing the sticks short wasn’t the end of the world. It was obviously tight coverage, so he didn’t have a chance to pull away. I thought I was going to go down and get a sack if I didn’t put it in.”
O’Connell admitted that he approached Cousins afterward to find out why he made that throw, and the coach said, “I could do a better job at this point.”
O’Connell said he would have preferred to pitch, but didn’t want to burden Cousins with pre-kick instructions.
“The goal as a punter is you’re not going to call a primary concept where somebody’s missing the sticks, especially if it’s fourth down,” O’Connell said. “Looking back on it, maybe I could have been a little bit more. “Hey, this is where you want the ball to go.” But I want Kirk to be able to play and be free to make good decisions. He did this all night.
“At the end of the day, I look at it because it’s on me as much as that playcall, even though we had [eligible receivers] by chance [to get] downfield maybe. There’s always a performance that could be better.”