With the season hanging in the balance on fourth and eight against the Giants in the wild-card round, Cousins opted not to throw it Jefferson’s way.
After the 31-24 defeat, Cousins explained the decision to throw short of the sticks, to tight end T.J. Hockenson. The Giants stopped Hockenson well short of the line to gain.
“[I] saw single-high [safety],” Cousins told reporters, “tried to work Justin, didn’t feel good about putting it up to Justin, and when I went to progress, I just felt like I was about to get sacked and I felt like I’ve got to put the ball in play, and I can’t go down with sack, so I thought I’d kick it out to T.J. I had thrown short of the sticks on a few occasions in the game and even going back a few weeks and just felt like just throwing it short of the sticks isn’t the end of the world. It’s just obviously tight coverage, so didn’t have the chance to pull away. But I just felt like I was going to go down and take a sack if I didn’t put it out.”
Cousins added that the deep safety shaded toward Jefferson.
“Most of the day they were moving over to Justin,” Cousins said.
Coach Kevin O’Connell took the blame for the play that was called.
:I could have done a better job in the moment,” O’Connell told reporters. “He knew it was fourth down, and he just didn’t want to — he wanted to make sure he put the ball in play. I’ve got to go back. I was watching some of the routes down the field to kind of materialize, and the pocket may or may not have been collapsing on him, and he just wanted to make sure he gave somebody a chance, and they made a play. Had some double coverage to Justin on that drive, and trying to have K.J. [Osborne] come to life, trying to have Adam [Thielen] come to life. We’ll take a long hard look at it. Our two-minute offense has been pretty darn good all season helping us, and in the end we didn’t get it done on that drive, and it did feel rather abrupt the way it happened.”
Obviously, O’Connell didn’t envision the ball being thrown short of the sticks.
“The intent as a playcaller is you’re not going to call a primary concept where somebody is short of the sticks to gain, especially on fourth down,” O’Connell said. “If it’s third down and you can catch, convert and make it a fourth and two or three, that’s OK. But yeah, looking back on it, I maybe could have just been a little bit more, ‘Hey, this is kind of where you want the ball to go.’ But I want Kirk to be able to play. I want him to be free out there to make good decisions. He did all night long. Moved our team. Stood in there, getting the ball out of his hand in rhythm. It just so happens that that down — we just didn’t get enough on the play regardless. In the end I look at as it’s as much on me in that play call, even though we had eligibles with a chance down 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. Cousins also seemed to have more time. He seemed to get a little skittish, to panic just enough to make a bad decision in the moment.
It’s unfortunate, but it happened. And if robbed the Vikings of a chance to force overtime or win it with a touchdown and a two-point conversion.