Kirk Cousins in Dallas Thursday night. (Michael Ainsworth/AP)

Some viewers were taken by surprise late Thursday night when NFL Network’s panel of former stars took aim at Kirk Cousins following Washington’s brutal 38-14 loss in Dallas. The team was sloppy in countless ways during the game — and Cousins cost his team dearly by fumbling the ball on a first-half sack. But Washington’s first turnover, a pass that went off Jamison Crowder’s hands and was intercepted in the end zone, did not appear to be a Cousins error.

“It just went through my hands,” Crowder said after the game, when he also said “a big part [of the loss] was my fault.”

And yet that play — and the quarterback’s reaction after it — was singled out for criticism during NFL Network’s discussion.

“Kirk Cousins, do you pay him, do you not?” Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk said. “There was blood in the water. The Cowboys were a wounded team coming in. I’m talking about not just physically but emotionally and mentally. As a quarterback, you come into games like this and you shred that defense, based on what I saw last week against the Los Angeles Chargers.”

Host Rich Eisen then argued that Cousins “was putting some balls right on the hands of some of his receivers in the first quarter,” and also mentioned Crowder’s fumbled punt return.

“I agree with everything that you are saying,” Faulk said. “But as a quarterback, when those things are happening, you go to your wide receivers. You don’t shake ’em. You pat ’em and let ’em know you have confidence, and let them know, ‘I’m coming back to you.’ And I was standing on the sidelines. I was waiting for that to happen. I never saw him go by his wide receivers and give them a vote of confidence.”

“Based off what he’s saying — and you want that leadership — I’m gonna say it right now: That probably cost him between $10 and $20 million off that contract,” former receiver Steve Smith chimed in. “Because he showed that he is not a true leader that demands that kind of money.”

“You’ve got to win these games right here,” Faulk said.

“And that’s interesting because we talked about it, and he talked about it,” Hall of Famer Michael Irvin said, referencing a Cousins radio interview last week. “He said ‘Haven’t you guys seen enough over the last few years in that building in D.C.?’ “

“No, he was right. He was right,” Faulk said. “We have seen enough. You are right. We’ve seen enough.”

Eisen tried again, suggesting such criticism was unfair, and that Cousins “put a ball right on Crowder’s hands” on that interception.

“But you remember I told you last week, he threw Crowder into a headache,” Smith said. “So Crowder was remembering, ‘Hey, you set me up last time, so now I think you may be doing that again.’ I’m telling you what’s going on, and it cost them.”

“The first interception, we’ve sat in meeting rooms, in the red zone as a quarterback, that ball’s got to be low, that ball’s got to be on him,” Faulk said. “You cannot throw a ball high. They tell that to rookie quarterbacks.”

“Protect the receiver,” Smith added, before Irvin said he put the interception more on the receiver.

Anyhow, 12 hours later, Cousins made his weekly appearance on 106.7 The Fan’s Grant and Danny program. Midway through the appearance, he was asked about that NFL Network criticism. Cousins said he hadn’t heard it, and after it was summarized, he attempted to avoid entering a back-and-forth.

“I mean, I think those guys are gonna say what they want to say, and I honestly think that in today’s world, unfortunately, sometimes saying inflammatory things, you get rewarded for it whether there’s a lot of truth behind it or not,” Cousins said. “You know, I didn’t go over right away [to Crowder], but I did go over and just try to encourage the guys up and down, the receivers and the O-line and the running backs, let ‘em know we’re doing a lot of good things, we’re fine.”

“Crowder and I have a great relationship,” Cousins went on. “He’s a classy guy. I love playing with him. And we go way back. So I just don’t know that he needs to be coddled; he’s a kind of guy that I know is mentally tough. And I feel good playing with him. And he came back, he came back and made plays for us the rest of the game like he always does. So people can say what they want to say, and that’s fine. I’m sure it drives ratings. It helps [attract] viewership. So be it.”

Cousins was later asked a question about how hard it is to rally from dropped passes, and he responded with praise.

“I’ve said all season long that I really like our locker room and I really like our team chemistry and I like the character of the guys,” he said. “And what I mean by that is when a guy drops a pass, they don’t come off to the sideline and blame other people. They don’t talk about how we need to call better plays. They walk over and they say ‘my fault.’ They have confidence and they say, ‘Hey, I’ll get the next one.’ And that’s where it’s fun to play with guys.”

“You play with guys at times who want to blame everybody but themselves, and they never want to take ownership, and that’s where a season can get really long and it’s just not enjoyable to play,” Cousins said. “But you look at Ryan Grant, Josh Doctson, Maurice Harris, Brian Quick, Jamison Crowder: These are classy guys. When they face adversity, they just keep going. And they’re fun to play with. And a couple of them are young players who I think are just gonna keep getting better. A lot of reason for optimism from that standpoint. So I think we’ll be just fine.”   

Cousins also again responded to the suggestion that Washington’s problem Thursday night was a lack of effort or insufficient preparation.

“I would just disagree,” he said, citing the way the team moved the ball on its first two drives, before the tipped-ball interception. “We go right down the field, and we have an unfortunate play [involving] a guy who for us has caught so many tough passes and made plays up and down the field for us for three years now. You know, we just had a tough play. It’s not caught.”

“The ball’s thrown hard, it’s not an easy catch, there’s a [middle] linebacker standing there waiting for him,” Cousins went on. “A tough task. The ball’s tipped up in the air, the safety happened to be right where the ball was tipped, and we don’t come away with any points and they get the ball. And then we fumbled a punt return and now the field position is reversed, and now we’re snapping the ball from our half-yard line, trying to move the ball down the field. So you know, it’s a combination of factors. And I just don’t see those mistakes as effort-related. I just see them as mistakes that hurt us.”

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