The Minnesota Vikings had one final shot down seven points to tie the NFC Wildcard showdown with the New York Giants on Sunday. But the offense encountered a 4th and 8 transaction, quarterback Kirk Cousins found T.J. Hockenson for a dinker pass, and the game was effectively over because the tight end could not gain a 1st Down.
Naturally, folks were not thrilled with Cousins’ “decision” to dump the ball to Hockenson, who would’ve needed to shed a tackle. Only that could’ve extended the game. New York took the ball, kneeled it, and the Vikings little-engine-that-could season was over.
Hall of Famer Defends Kirk Cousins’ Final Play of the Season
Cousins received ample heat for “not throwing it up to Justin Jefferson,” even as the Vikings signal-caller was about to experience a sack from the Giants defensive line. Because Jefferson pulled off an otherworldly catch against the Buffalo Bills two months ago, fans thought he might do it again — if Cousins had time to deliver the ball.
Well, according to Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, a Super Bowl champion with St. Louis Rams 23 years ago, Cousins was in an unenviable spot. Warner tweeted Monday, “Lots of talk about the last throw by Vikings Kirk Cousins vs Giants yesterday – here’s how I see the play, why I completely understand what Kirk did & maybe what I would have done differently w/ playcall & read!”
Specifically on the notion of throwing a prayer to Jefferson, Warned referenced the Giants triple coverage and opined, “Yeah, you could throw it up to Justin Jefferson, but that’s a horrible relationship there, and you’re looking for a one-handed catch.”
Here’s the 6+ minute video from Warner, now an NFL analyst for NFL Network:
Before the now-famous “short of the sticks” throw to Hockenson, Cousins was nearly perfect against the Giants. He accounted for three touchdowns and an 81.6% completion rate, which is about the best one can hope for in a playoff game. Still, Cousins irritated the masses as his final throw adhered to a familiar “Checkdown Charlie” narrative.
The Vikings signed Cousins after the 2017 season, theorized as the “missing piece of the puzzle” for a Minnesota offense that only needed a sturdy passer to put the franchise over the top. But even with an expensive quarterback, former head coach Mike Zimmer preferred to run the football, play defense, and employ Cousins as a perk — not a necessity. Accordingly, the Cousins-led Vikings have missed the playoffs altogether three times and have never advanced beyond the NFC’s Divisional Round in his five seasons.
But left up the judgment of Warner — who probably knows what he’s talking about — the final offensive play really shouldn’t be construed as a Cousins gaffe.
The Vikings will use free agency to bolster the roster for 2023 beginning March 15th.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).