Fourth-and-three decision undermines otherwise great night from Kirk Cousins

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Kirk Cousins did plenty of great things on Monday night in Seattle. But with the game on the line, and in the flash of an eye, a not-so-great decision derailed what would have been one of the greatest come-from-behind victories in Monday Night Football history.

First, Cousins merits praise. He made multiple good decisions in spreading the ball to nine different receivers. He threw the ball well. The third-quarter fumble that allowed the Seahawks to take the lead for the first time wasn’t his fault. The interception — his first since Week Six — came after blatant defensive pass interference that wasn’t called, a failure by receiver Stefon Diggs (despite the interference) to catch the ball when it him in the hands, and an incredible look-what-I-found play by Seattle defensive back Tre Flowers

Down 34-17, Cousins didn’t flinch. He pressed. He made even better throws and even better decisions. He had the sense of urgency that we so often criticize quarterbacks in the fourth quarter of a potentially lost cause for not demonstrating, pushing the Vikings to the line of scrimmage, realizing that every second counted when down 17 and later when down 10.

Still, with the game on the line and the ball in his hands, Cousins made a bad decision, and a bad throw.

It was fourth and three from the Minnesota 42, with 2:31 to play. In shotgun formation, Cousins got the snap, made a quick read, and fired the ball to tight end Irv Smith, who was running an out route from the left slot. It wasn’t even close to being completed.

Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com posted a diagram of the options available to Cousins at the time he threw the ball. Smith was covered. Diggs, split wide to the left, flared deep toward the sideline and was covered. Laquon Treadwell did basically the same thing on the right side, and was covered. Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who ran the same route as Smith on the other side of the formation, also was covered.

Running back Alexander Mattison leaked out of the backfield, and based on the graphic posted by Seifert was open.

The NFL’s NextGenStats account chimed in with this observation: “For added context, targeting Alexander Mattison had a Completion Probability of 89.9% (Expected Yards = 5.6). Targeting Irv Smith had just a 43.2% Completion Probability at the moment Cousins attempted the pass. Smith also had the highest INT probability (25.8%) of any receiver.”

The problem for Cousins is that, because he lacks the mobility to buy time with his legs, he had to make a quick decision. And when making a quick decision, it’s important to make the right decision.

In that moment, he didn’t. While it doesn’t take away the very good things that he did last night, it ultimately kept the Vikings from the kind of season-defining win that would have propelled them toward the division title, possibly a bye, and possibly the Super Bowl.

While, as coach Mike Zimmer said, the loss isn’t the end of the world, here’s what it is: The start of a path to Miami that will be much more challenging than it otherwise could have been, with a likely trip to Green Bay with the reward for an upset being a trip to New Orleans/Seattle/San Francisco followed by (with another upset) another trip to New Orleans/Seattle/San Francisco.

63 responses to “Fourth-and-three decision undermines otherwise great night from Kirk Cousins

  1. I actually thought the same as he was throwing the ball… Mattison is open. This loss isn’t on Kirk though. This defense has taken some huge steps backwards.

  2. “with the game on the line and the ball in his hands, Cousins made a bad decision, and a bad throw.”

    That will be Cousin’s legacy as a player throughout his career. Making a bad decision and or throw at the biggest point of crucial games.

  3. As I watched that play live, it seemed to me that Cousins looked at Mattison for a split-second and for some reason went off that target to try a much more difficult throw to Smith. Would be interesting to hear what he thought.

  4. This game wasn’t as close as it seems. The Vikings had their normal weekly share of fluky, lucky circumstances that kept them close. If they weren’t the luckiest team in the NFL year after year, they’d be Cleveland. The no-call “arm-going-forward” (whew) Cousins fumble…..lucky, the badminton freebie TD……lucky, the inexplicable blown coverage on the Treadwell walk-in…….lucky. There were several other lucky plays for the Vikings. It seems there always is.

  5. Cousins was 22/38, with 2 TDs and an interception and 276 yards.
    I wouldn’t call that a great night.
    The best we can say is he started out bad and came on strong when losing.
    Had the score not been as close we would say he padded his stats in garbage time.

    Cousins is not a bad QB, he’s ok, but he better take his team to the playoffs and not be a one and done QB or this is going to be a bad signing.

  6. The vikings issues begin with Rhodes…… he’s a liability and Zimmer has to see this. If he cant then another coach is needed who can. Cousins is NOT the problem.

  7. Ah…we’re playing the “what if” game for the Vikings. Yeah, if all their bad plays were good ones, they would have won. But…”what if” Seattle had all their bad plays/calls changed? Seattle wins in a blowout “if” Wilson doesn’t swat a tipped ball right to a Vikings safety for a bizarre td…or “if” they cover Treadwell on his big td play…the “what if” game is the anthem of the loser. Period.

  8. When your franchise hasn’t won any titles ever, 8-4 and praise for being good in a loss in the midst of a monster guaranteed contract isn’t good enough, especially this year.

    That Bears loss is the one to look back on, especially if the Pack win 3/4 down the stretch.

  9. First, ignore ‘stellar’. Just a really dumb take. It’s so dumb in fact, that I’m not sure somebody didn’t steal his account.

    Second, that’s a really harsh assessment and break down of a single play. Not too easy making a read and looking at 5 WR’s in 2 seconds. But, it was not a good throw. Never stood a chance.

    Now, Zim needs to start answering some damn hard questions about Rhodes. Not only has Rhodes played bad, but opposing teams actively target him whenever they need a first down. And it usually works.

  10. h4wksf4n says:
    December 3, 2019 at 9:51 am
    Blatant pass interference? You must not be watching a lot of football games.

    __________________________________

    Everyone who’s not a SeaChicken fan knew it was PI. You just have blinders on.

  11. To score 30 in Sea is acceptable. Cousins played well. The Int was again on Diggs, 2 this year. Zim’s D is awful though. It’s on him and him alone. The talent level at DT and Rhodes has dropped off in a big way and let’s face it, Zim started losing the locker room in 2016. He won’t dare come down on the vets for fear of full mutiny. Time for tough, but smart decisions after the season Wilfs! Get rid of the leadership.

  12. That INT was 100% PI. Jersey grab, spins Diggs, hits him early, and then plows through him to make an INT. The Seahawks had 1 penalty last night. One! And that was a PI that practically threw its own flag. But some bozo on here is talking that the Vikings were “lucky”?

  13. He continues to lose every game on MNF, and rarely beat a winning team. 57% completion? a Lucky INT cause of a tip pass by Wilson, this game could have easily been 37-17. At no point did the Vikings appear that they could win the game with Kirk. The narrative is the same with Kirk, great in garbage time but doesn’t win the games.

  14. Was at the game last night, it is such a great place to watch a football game! Just wish Carroll would manage his time outs better, and learn how to put a team away!!

  15. People calling the Vikings Interception as “lucky”. The only luck involved, and no one would ever mention it, was that Russel Wilson made a completely STUPID play by batting the ball forward, right into Ant Harris’ hands. Catch and drop, or pull it down. Spiking it forward was a bad decision, but we can’t have our NFL poster boys look mortal…

  16. Can’t hang this loss on Cousins, not even close. First, the Hawks are pretty good and Wilson is hard to game plan against. Second, the Vikes offense moved the ball well enough on the road and in a hostile environment — certainly well enough to win.

    Whether PI or not, the Hawks caused the turnovers and deserved the rewards — kudos to them. If Dalvin had held on to the ball, and Diggs made the contested catches he’s known for, those wouldn’t have been issues anyway.

    This loss is squarely on the front 7 and our old pal “open” Rhodes. Did anyone even hear a DT’s name all night other than Watts’ tipped ball? Say what you want about the Hawks pass protection, they sure as hell can run block.

    Congrats to the Hawks — I hope we play you again. At least the Vikes game a west coast opponent and prime time fans a competitive game, unlike the team to the east.

  17. Lol Florio wants Cousins to be great so bad his articles are becoming even more laughable.

    “…a not-so-great decision derailed what would have been one of the greatest come-from-behind victories in Monday Night Football history.”

    Cousins did what Cousins does, blow it when it matters. Last year if the roughing the passer bs wasn’t happening, he would be known as throwing an interception to lose to the Pack vs Matthews being known as roughing to save their behinds.

    Granted Cousins is playing really well, but he has yet to show that when the pressure is on and he needs to make a play, that he can.

    And don’t bring up the comeback vs the Broncos. The Broncos are pure garbage and about the only team that could happen against.

    Cousins is a choke artist, through and through.

  18. You know…it’s weird. Last season (before they shut Rodgers down for the year), the Packers were in every single game; one score or less decided nearly every loss–the two outliers were opponent scores in the last minute or two of the game. They didn’t get blown out.

    Packers fans pointed this out, and Vikings fans said that there were no moral victories. And yet, all I’m reading about this morning is how this was a moral victory for the Vikings.

    Odd how moral victories are fine for the Vikings but not for the Packers.

    Maybe it’s because moral victories are literally all you have?

  19. It’s pretty amazing how salty the Vikings fans are. They are having a great season and yet they complain like old ladies. Every other comment on here is one complaint or another, usually about Cousins. I don’t get it. If you want Tom Brady, go get him. If you hate Cousins get rid of him. He will have a job in an hour. Your team will be even worse then and you will legitimately have something to complain about. Cousins isn’t the greatest to walk the field, for sure. But he’s good.

    Stop complaining about him and just enjoy your season. Maybe show some support, for Pete’s sake.

  20. purpleguy says:
    December 3, 2019 at 10:34 am
    Congrats to the Hawks — I hope we play you again. At least the Vikes game a west coast opponent and prime time fans a competitive game, unlike the team to the east.
    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    ……unlike the division-leading beat-us-once-already first-place team to East.

  21. If Cousins threw to the RB, Wagner comes up and makes the INT. He looks open to you guys because you don’t understand the speed of the Seattle LBs baiting the QB into that throw. Cousins does, because he was battling those guys all night, and knew exactly how much space they could cover on a short throw because that’s all he was completing – short throws.

    It is funny to listen to people use computer algorithms and nerd analysis to break down sports contests played by athletic freaks. Your computer will never understand the human body and what it is truly capable of, and definitely not that of a genetic-freak athlete at their peak.

    Vikes will have another chance this post-season. Come and get it. Wilson and company will be waiting with smiles.

  22. ” At least the Vikes game a west coast opponent and prime time fans a competitive game, unlike the team to the east.”

    I think style points are awarded later today.
    Nice adult post until then, though.

  23. The play prior to that play should have been a run, a draw play. There was plenty time left in the game, and it wasn’t an obvious passing down, especially when you are going for it on fourth down.

    Look, I get the story line about Cousins not having won on Monday night, but the real story here (as to why the Vikings lost) is that their normally stingy run defense, the same one which shut down Ezekiel Elliot just a few weeks ago, got gashed for over 200 yards rushing. Cousins wasn’t perfect, but this loss is on the defense.

  24. Blatant pass interference wasn’t called? Funny there’s no mention of the blatant face mask by Rhoades in the 1st quarter that wasn’t called that stalled a Seahawks drive… but Mr. Florio wouldn’t dare mention that!

  25. Blah blah blah! And for what? Trying to save face with a barrage of excuses? Sorry, barneys but the world doesn’t work that way. But yet you keep on trying to make your illusions everyone elses reality. How many moral victory trophies are in the trophy case at Winter Park?

  26. How on earth is this a good game? How is it that if Kirk doesn’t have sub 150 yards everyone praises him? He completed what three passes past the 5 yard mark? he doesn’t make reads in crucial situations. He stares down one receiver the whole play and forces it no matter what. The whole game he was throwing off of his back foot. Just so aggrivating to watch and sit here and see people praise this play.

  27. The problem with this team isn’t Cousins, it’s (a) a terrible defense, and (b) terrible offensive game plans.

    The defense part is obvious. The pass defense has been so bad that Zimmer had to try to fix it over the bye. The solution was to ruin the run defense. They just don’t have the players anymore. They’ve invested in the offense more lately, which they should, and now they don’t have the players to step in for the guys who aren’t getting it done anymore.

    That could all be overcome if the offensive coaching staff would allow the offense to play more than half a game. In Weeks 5, 6, and 7, the offense played aggressively right from the beginning of the game. They scored 108 points in three blowouts. Starting with the Washington game, however, the game plans became much more conservative. There are no downfield passes in the first half. All we see are screen passes, checkdowns to C.J. Ham, and 5-yard passes to wide receivers. They treat Cousins like a rookie. If they fall behind like the last two games, they open it up in the second half because they have to and they score quickly.

    They’re scared to death of something and it has to stop because the only way they can win now is to play aggressively on offense from the beginning of the game. Outside of the Washington game, the defense is giving up 28 points a game since Week 7. This is an offensive team now and they’d better wake up and realize it.

  28. Kelly Arvin says:
    December 3, 2019 at 11:01 am

    Blatant pass interference wasn’t called? Funny there’s no mention of the blatant face mask by Rhoades in the 1st quarter that wasn’t called that stalled a Seahawks drive… but Mr. Florio wouldn’t dare mention that!
    ___________

    You know, they have a thing called instant replay. If you would have watched the play again instead of going to the fridge for another beer, you would have seen that Rhodes brought the guy down legally. Just because somebody gets stopped in their tracks doesn’t mean it had to have been by the facemask.

  29. It’s unfair to place the total blame on Cousins. Our fabulous defense gave up 37 points and the Seahawks repeatedly ran the ball right at us, even when we knew the we’re going to run, we couldn’t stop them.

  30. So what exactly is wrong about throwing 5 or 6 yard passes? Two of those is a first down. First downs take the team down the field. Short quick passes negate the pass rush and puts pressure on defense’s secondary. Cousins’ issue seems to be that he gets committed to just making a throw on some plays no matter the coverage.

    That said, it was the Viking defense that didn’t stop the Seahawks’ offense. Some of that may have been due to bad field position caused by Viking offense, but overall it was a poor showing by Viking’s defense. Maybe it was just an out of sync thing or maybe it was a Seahawks game plan thing.

  31. h4wksf4n says:
    December 3, 2019 at 9:51 am
    Blatant pass interference? You must not be watching a lot of football games.
    ————-
    Agreed. There’s a challenge flag for that now…Zimmer kept it in his pocket. Period.

  32. The blame is on Cousins because he choked in that crucial drive, when trailing by 4. He had control on the outcome of the game and he failed. He failed on third and 3, fourth and 3, at clutch time. Period.

  33. Now I see why the Packer trolls usually just make stuff up and don’t actually discuss X’s and O’s. They have no clue how to actually analyze or break down a game, or even know what that means. Quite embarrassing what a lack of football knowledge they actually possess. Hey trolls, just go back to your little quips. You’re not good at those either, but at least your lack of football knowledge doesn’t show that way.

  34. conormacleod says:
    December 3, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    Now I see why the Packer trolls usually just make stuff up and don’t actually discuss X’s and O’s.
    _________

    That’s alright, you Barneys haven’t even been able to crack the code of basic sports standings math, I’m really not intimidated by your football acumen.

  35. purpleguy says:
    December 3, 2019 at 10:34 am
    Congrats to the Hawks — I hope we play you again. At least the Vikes game a west coast opponent and prime time fans a competitive game, unlike the team to the east.
    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    ……unlike the division-leading beat-us-once-already first-place team to East.
    ____________________________________________________________________________________

    If you look at the standings, they are actually the team to the NORTH.

  36. The VIkings defense is hampered by man coverage schemes. It’s been exposed and so has Xavier Rhodes and Mike Hughes. The times they play zone they stop drives. They play man or blitz they get burned every time nearly. Zim’s been figured out. The best thing would be to let Edwards run the defense. Was Marvin Lewis the D coordinator in Cincinnati? No but he was Head Coach and acted like it. He was the D coordinator for the 2000 Ravens who were considered the best defense of this new century. He didn’t continue that as a HC though. Zim shouldn’t either. He gets too caught up in blitzes and schemes and he’s lost sight of the big picture of the game.

    Mattison was wide open.

    Bailey missing that extra point was so deflating to the team. He sucks. What’s with the Vikings and their kickers always choking.

    On the last fumble, if there’s only 15 seconds left why would you even attempt a return? All that does is waste time,

    Zim’s defense is terrible. Against the pass it’s non existent.

    The special teams are atrocious and undisciplined.

    If they even make the playoffs. If it’s on the road. They’ll lose.

  37. Violating my comment twice on an article rule, but come on there jesse, where precisely are the comments by adults above? If cheesers are going to childishly troll Viking fans after a loss, don’t expect us to respond with Kudos to Lord Rodgers and the Pack’s NFCN lead — we all know the Pack, like the Vikes, not likely to go anywhere post-season. Celebrate your lead and rub it in all you want, but the 49er game proved that any celebration is a joke.

  38. conormacleod says:
    December 3, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    Quite embarrassing what a lack of football knowledge they actually possess. Hey trolls, just go back to your little quips.

    ++++

    Kind of like you stamping your foot last year trying to convince anyone that the Vikings were “dangerous” because they controlled their own playoff destiny until the end. Carry on.

  39. First, ignore ‘stellar’. Just a really dumb take. It’s so dumb in fact, that I’m not sure somebody didn’t steal his account.
    ——
    Hilariously I called you out a couple weeks ago for posting almost the exact same thing steller just did. Short memory.

  40. I enjoy trying to rewrite the narrative after these games to combat Vikings fans doing the same thing about the Packers.

    For instance:

    The Vikings sure did well in garbage time vs. the Seahawks, just like they did well in garbage time vs the Packers earlier this year. The Vikings never really had a chance to win, because they are coached by a “good regular season” coach and have “Mr. 0-8 On Monday night” as their QB.

    See, history is written by the victors, and so that means History isn’t written by the Vikings.

  41. it was never kirk’s fault, even with the skins. it was always the defense, the o line, the run game, the receivers. no matter where kirk goes he is just good enough to convince people to throw the rest of the team under the bus. i know because i was a huge kirk defender with washington. the fact of the matter is he cant match other high octane offenses when it matters most. put him against rodgers, wilson, jackson, mahomes, and he will NEVER score as many points. in today’s NFL that is not good enough.

    i scoffed when people called him a journeyman. but he really is just alex smith with a better arm and worse ball security. he’s the definition of journeyman and last nights game only builds on that narrative.

  42. Cousins did play all right, but they protect him like a rookie QB, because they are so afraid to let him throw downfield. They focus so much on the run screen game. Which is fine, but geez he didn’t pass the ball further than FIVE yards downfield, until under 30 seconds in the first HALF. Thats the kind of thing you see in a high school game, and its fine give yourself a chance to win, but you can get a bunch of QBs to do that for a lot cheaper than 85 Mil fully guranteed, and spend that cash elsewhere.

  43. stellarperformance says:
    December 3, 2019 at 9:55 am

    This game wasn’t as close as it seems. The Vikings had their normal weekly share of fluky, lucky circumstances that kept them close. If they weren’t the luckiest team in the NFL year after year, they’d be Cleveland. The no-call “arm-going-forward” (whew) Cousins fumble…..lucky, the badminton freebie TD……lucky, the inexplicable blown coverage on the Treadwell walk-in…….lucky. There were several other lucky plays for the Vikings. It seems there always is.
    ///////////////////////
    If you really want to see the luckiest team in the NFL then re-watch the Lions at the Packers

  44. The Goofers choked at home against the Badgers on Saturday, crushing their Rose Bowl hopes.

    Last night the Vikings choked in the clutch against the Seahawks, crushing their division hopes.

    Meanwhile, the Packers simply took care of business on Sunday against the Giants.

    I call this group of games “Loserville’s Great Thanksgiving Weekend Collapse of 2019”.

    Awesome!

  45. Seems like Anthony Barr comes close several times a game with late hits on the QB , this is his game , cheap shots on the QB , it must be what the Vikings preach , hurt the QB and it increases our chances of winning. It’s a shame because he is a good player without that but it will catch up to him eventually.

  46. Seems like Anthony Barr comes close several times a game with late hits on the QB , this is his game , cheap shots on the QB , it must be what the Vikings preach , hurt the QB and it increases our chances of winning. It’s a shame because he is a good player without that but it will catch up to him eventually.

  47. We had a good year. Obviously, we have two WRs who are grossly overpaid, considering their time on the field this year. OL, DBs, WRs and new coaches should be on our Xmas
    list.

  48. At 8-4 the playoffs remain open. Really, or mainly because of Cousins, Diggs and Cook. Add Rudy in of late, and watching Cousins fire TDs to backups like Treadwell behind a backup left tackle…and you know without a doubt the Vikings have a QB now. He’s good.

    Great time for the defense to take the rest of the year off. Vikes outcoached again.

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