The NFL, according to The Washington Post’s Mark Maske, seems to believe that the last-minute intentional-grounding call that pushed the Redskins out of field goal range and led to overtime during Sunday’s loss in New Orleans was erroneously called. Quarterback Kirk Cousins wasn’t under pressure as he threw the ball to the sidelines, with the implication that he thus should not have been whistled for the crucial call.
Presented with that information Monday morning, Cousins didn’t feel much better.
“The letter to Bruce Allen or whatever they do to say, ‘We’re sorry, wrong call,’ or whatever it may be, you know, it’s tough,” Cousins said during his weekly appearance on 106.7 The Fan’s Grant and Danny program. “Because nobody will be bringing that up in February or March, when we’re making decisions about which direction to go as an organization. You know, that’s the kind of thing that we appreciate the clarification, but it really doesn’t do much. I mean, this is our careers, this is our livelihood, this is what we do. It just is frustrating when a letter is really all you get, when it had such a major impact on the direction of our lives, when we’re in it and doing it every day.”
He wasn’t being shy about that controversial call, and in fact, Cousins went into incredible depth describing the play. He acknowledged that his goal on that pass was to throw quickly and incomplete toward the sideline, but he seemed not to think that his actions met the definition of grounding.
“It was essentially like clocking it,” he told the station. “I mean, I wanted to just spike it. I wanted to throw it at Jamison [Crowder’s] shins, which would have been better. Maybe if I throw it right at Jamison’s cleats — like you do with a screen that’s dead, you just throw it at their cleats — then [officials] would have said ‘Oh, there’s a receiver in the area.’
“I just tried to do the exact same thing by just throwing it over his head out of bounds, thinking he’s still in the area, the ball’s going at him. If he had turned and looked at me and the ball had gone 10 feet over his head, they would have said ‘Oh, just an inaccurate throw.’ But I guess because he didn’t turn and look at me, they’re allowing that to affect the judgment of the call. It just gets to be a little grey.”
Why did he want to throw the ball incomplete? As Cousins explained it, when the offense works on the two-minute drill in training camp or practice, if they need a field goal and reaches field-goal range, “we pretty much play conservative at that point.” The Redskins were at the New Orleans 34-yard line, needing only a field goal to win, so Cousins thought that threshold had likely been met.
“And the call came in to run it, and so my thought process is we’re running a one back power play, and I’m gonna hand it off,” Cousins told Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier. “We’re running at all costs. And we had no timeouts left, so once [Samaje Perine] runs it, basically we’ve got to kill it on second down and then the field-goal team comes out on third down and kicks it.”
But, according to Cousins, Coach Jay Gruden saw that the Saints defensive call would leave the scheduled run play “pretty much stuffed.” This might normally lead to an audible into a pass. Cousins didn’t go in that direction, though, because “this is a run at all costs play,” he said.
“The whole point of calling a run is to run it; if we want to throw it, we’d call a pass,” he said. “So I’m at the line of scrimmage, and I see Jay kind of on the sidelines, and I see what I think to be in the noise — I can’t really hear him — but I see him say ‘Throw it.’ And I’m assuming what he meant is the play’s dead, the run’s not gonna work, it’s not gonna get us [anything], if anything we’re gonna lose yards. Right now on the 34-yard line, yards are precious.
“So I’m thinking ‘Well, Crowder and [Josh] Doctson are over there, if I literally just throw it over their heads, they’re in the area, they’re eligible receivers,” Cousins went on. “Not to mention if I’m not under pressure it’s not intentional grounding, because I’m not really at risk of a sack. So I can just throw it in their general direction, and because I’m not under pressure and because they’re in the area, it won’t matter. And you saw what happened. I threw the ball and it looks like I’m throwing to nobody, but in my opinion — or before I threw the ball, my opinion was he’ll be in the general area.
“How do you define the difference between an inaccurate pass and intentional grounding, especially when there’s nobody pressuring you in the sense that you’re actually at risk of a sack?” Cousins asked. “So I don’t quite understand the rule, because if I threw the ball down the field and there was a receiver 15 yards away but I threw it so inaccurately that it was 15 yards away from him, that’s never called intentional grounding. So where is the difference between an inaccurate throw and intentional grounding? That was my struggle.”
Of course, the penalty was then compounded when no one seemed to realize that the clock was running after the subsequent 10-second run-off, which Cousins confirmed.
“I didn’t realize the clock was running,” he told Paulsen and Rouhier. “I didn’t know that. I was just trying to make sure our protection was good, because they brought a pressure and wanted to make sure we were picked up. And I felt like if we could get five, 10 yards here, who knows, maybe we’re back in field-goal range and we still have a chance. This is a really important play, so I was trying to make sure our protection was good so that if I had to go downfield, I could.”
Instead, Cousins was sacked, on the final play of regulation.
The quarterback also took issue with the hit that left him briefly stunned earlier in the second half, immediately before Washington’s successful fake punt. Cousins didn’t slide on the play, and was tackled short of a first down. Earlier in the game, he slid for a first down and then received a 15-yard penalty for taking a late hit.
“When you slide, you do kind of open yourself up if that DB wants to be stupid and use his helmet as a weapon, you pretty much make yourself available for him to do that,” Cousins told Paulsen and Rouhier. “Whereas if you try to juke him or just dive around him, yeah, you may get hit in the side but at least you’re not getting hit in the head. And I’d rather take a hit to the side than a hit to the head. … I thought that [later play] also could be flagged. I felt like the DB basically again used his helmet as a weapon to try to hit my head. I don’t understand why it’s not flagged. I don’t think we should have needed a fake punt. It probably should have been another penalty, because he’s doing helmet to helmet again. But I guess because I’m not sliding maybe the rule is different.”
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