Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Kirk Cousins effectively ended his final game of the season by throwing an interception. Yes, recent, and painful, Redskins history repeated itself Sunday, but as he so often does, the quarterback provided both his detractors and supporters with talking points.
With just over a minute left in the Pro Bowl and Cousins’s NFC side driving for a tying touchdown, his pass intended for Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham was picked off by Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander at the AFC’s 3-yard line. After heading back the other way and while being tackled, the former Redskin lateraled the ball to Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib, who made it all the way to the NFC’s 15-yard line before he fumbled the ball when it was knocked loose (although his squad recovered it and was able to kneel out the clock).
And who scampered all those dozens of yards in the other direction to force Talib’s fumble? Why, Cousins himself.
— NFL (@NFL) January 30, 2017
“What an effort by Kirk Cousins,” ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said of his hustle. The quarterback said after the game, “I just thought I’d try to strip him and do my best Don Beebe impersonation,” referring to the former Bill’s famous Super Bowl XXVII play, when he chased down the Cowboys’ Leon Lett and forced a fumble and a touchback.
Of course, that effort by Beebe came when his team was getting trounced by Dallas, making it only slightly more meaningful than anything that has ever happened in a Pro Bowl. And some curmudgeons could point out that Cousins wouldn’t have had to run that far had he not thrown his pass slightly behind Graham, setting the whole sequence in motion.
In fairness, the tight end should have caught the ball, and even if not, it was bad luck for the NFC that the ball bounced more or less directly to Alexander, but Redskins fans could be forgiven for feeling an unpleasant sense of deja vu. In the team’s regular season finale, and with a likely spot in the playoffs on the line, Cousins threw an interception with just over a minute left that sealed a loss to the Giants.
Even if the Pro Bowl interception was mostly not Cousins’s fault, it was a reminder that he had major trouble getting his team into the end zone this season. Despite throwing for 4,917 yards, third in the NFL, the fifth-year quarterback notched just 25 touchdown passes (the two players who finished ahead of him in passing yardage, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, threw 37 and 38 touchdowns, respectively). Washington finished 30th in the league, ahead of only Brock Osweiler’s Texans and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Jets, in percentage of red-zone trips that produced touchdowns.
So in his final bit of game action before he enters an offseason filled with uncertainty about his future in Washington, Cousins reminded at least some why they have their reservations about him. On his two preceding drives, after entering the Pro Bowl in the fourth quarter, he marched the NFC to the AFC’s 24- and 20-yard lines before the offense bogged down and settled for field goals.
On the other hand, there was that display of hustle on the pick, one that showed Cousins’s competitive spirit. Then there was the fact that, you know, he was in the game at all, befitting a player who, in the past two seasons, has been among the league’s most prolific passers.
“When I look at Kirk Cousins, I think he’s probably their best player,” Gruden said during the Pro Bowl, adding, “He’s guy you can win with. I think he’s going nowhere.”
Gruden also said that Cousins is “due for a huge contract,” which seems noteworthy, given that Gruden’s brother happens to be the head coach of the Redskins. The team will have to decide whether to try to sign the quarterback to a long-term deal this offseason or place the one-year franchise tag on him, or even let him walk (possibly with draft-pick compensation), but as far as Gruden is concerned, showing him the money is a no-brainer.
In any event, Cousins is done playing in a helmet and pads for a while, but not before leaving us with one last memorable play.