Minnesota Vikings Quarterback Kirk Cousins Talks Controversial Fourth-Down Throw on Netflix’s Quarterback

On Netflix's 'Quarterback,' Kirk Cousins opened up about the controversial fourth-down throw that ended the Minnesota Vikings' season.

The Netflix serial documentary “Quarterback,” which featured Kirk Cousins, Patrick Mahomes, and Marcus Mariota, provided some additional insight for the biggest game of the Minnesota Vikings’ season — a 31-24 playoff loss to the New York Giants.

In it, they covered the most controversial moment of the Vikings’ season, coming at the final moments of their playoff run.

Kirk Cousins Took Blame Because of His Fourth-Down Throw

The Vikings’ season ended how many critics thought it would: a first-round playoff exit in a close game. After winning 11 close games during the regular season, the Vikings found themselves down four points against the New York Giants on the final offensive drive of the game.

On third down, Cousins threw it too far ahead of receiver K.J. Osborn. On 4th and 18, Cousins threw well short of the sticks to tight end T.J. Hockenson, who was tackled before he could turn upfield.

This had been a locus of criticism for the quarterback throughout the offseason but one he didn’t seem particularly willing to acknowledge after the game.

In his post-game press availability, Cousins said, “[I] saw single-high, tried to work Justin [Jefferson], 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.”

Kirk Cousins Opened Up on Netflix’s ‘Quarterback’ About the Throw

On Quarterback, Cousins said, “When you throw it short of the sticks, and he’s tackled, you know, you get a lot of grief for it, but Justin was doubled, and instinctively, it felt careless to throw it to him with the game on the line. It came down to T.J.”

This stands in stark contrast to what Cousins said about his decision to heave the ball to Jefferson on 4th and 18 in the comeback against the Buffalo Bills. Of that decision, he said, “There’s a lot of trust there that, even in tight coverage, when you put the ball out there in tight coverage, he’ll make the play.”

Magnifying that concern is the fact that Cousins, before the 2022 season, developed a reputation for doing poorly in high-leverage situations. The reputation hasn’t always been fair, but there has been a reason for it — in his four seasons with the team prior to 2022, he only accumulated five fourth-quarter comebacks.

His history tells us that he’s more likely to make that throw to Hockenson against New York than the throw he made to Jefferson against Buffalo.

Since he joined the Vikings in 2018, he ranked 24th of 36 quarterbacks in average air distance beyond the sticks on third and long (six yards to go or more) in the fourth quarter within one score. In the percentage of passes thrown beyond the sticks, he ranked 28th.

He ranks 25th in conversation rate in those situations.

This tendency of Cousins — to be risk-averse even when the game is on the line — wasn’t present for most of the season. But when it mattered most, his instincts kicked in. And at that moment, others knew it was a mistake.

“The intent as a play-caller is you’re not going to call a primary concept where somebody is short of the sticks to gain, especially on fourth down,” said head coach Kevin O’Connell after the game. “If it’s third down and you can catch, convert, and make it a 4th and 2 or 3, that’s okay.”

Without saying that Cousins threw the wrong read, O’Connell seemed to imply that underneath options were not meant to be real targets except in unusual circumstances.

Did Kirk Cousins Almost Admit He Made a Mistake?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether or not Cousins manages public expectations with milquetoast public statements on one throw, so long as he knows whether or not he made the right decision. And on Quarterback, it looks like he knew.

At the end of the seventh episode, “Win or Go Home,” Cousins seemed to imply that he thought his throw was actually the wrong choice. As he drove home from the game, recounting the game with his wife, he said he had made three mistakes that would haunt him throughout the game.

The first was an early third down where he was too quick with his footwork and was too fast on a read. The second was the second-to-last play of the game, where he threw too far ahead of Osborn.

He didn’t mention the third.

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