WASHINGTON — Jon Gruden heaped a ton of praise on Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins during the waning minutes of Sunday’s Pro Bowl.
The former NFL head coach turned broadcaster, and notably elder brother of Washington head coach Jay Gruden, has personally helped develop Cousins in recent offseason programs, and made clear his adoration for Cousins on the ESPN broadcast.
Cousins led all passers in the game, completing 14 of 20 passes (70%) for 158 yards after taking over for Drew Brees in the fourth quarter. During his first series, play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough addressed Cousins’ looming free agency and the season he just had.
That prompted Gruden to call Cousins a “steadily improving player” who is “due for a huge contract.”
“Leader of one of the best offenses in the NFL this year, the Washington Redskins,” McDonough said. “And again this year, coach, like last offseason, your brother, Jay Gruden, the brain trust management of the Redskins [are] gonna have to try to decide what to do with Kirk Cousins contractually.”
“Well, when I look at the Redskins, I think he’s far and away their best player,” Gruden said. “It’s 9,000 yards and counting in just two years as a starter, took ’em to the playoffs, a division title, two years ago. Just fell up short this year, but they can add some players to their defense. I believe Kirk Cousins is a guy you can win with. I think he’s going nowhere.”
After Cousins nearly threw an interception on a pass to Greg Olsen, McDonough rightly noted, “If there’s one criticism you’d have, [it’s that] from time to time, in some big situations, particularly down in the red zone or close to it, he doesn’t always make the best decisions and he’s a very smart guy.”
“Well, that time, Ryan Shazier should have had the easy interception,” Gruden said.
On the NFC’s final drive, Cousins threw an interception to former Redskin Lorenzo Alexander — a pass which went right through the receiver, Jimmy Graham’s, hands — at the AFC’s two-yard line while trailing by seven points. Alexander returned it 20 yards before lateraling the ball to Aqib Talib, who returned another 63 yards, before Cousins came seemingly out of nowhere to knock the ball loose from Talib’s hands.
It was a remarkable display of speed by Cousins and perhaps somewhat of a face-saving moment against his critics.
“Look at Cousins racing to bat the ball out!” McDonough shouted.
“What an effort by Kirk Cousins,” Gruden extolled. “Throw a potential game-tying touchdown, the ball’s dropped by Graham, Alexander intercepts it, he laterals it to Aqib Talib. Talib has a nose for the end zone and off he goes, and watch Kirk Cousins track Talib down and strip the ball!
“You talk about the situation, too, coach,” McDonough said. “Here’s a guy who’s a free agent. He’s talking about a contract worth maybe $25 million a year. You can get hurt on that play.”
“That’s awesome!” Gruden enthused further. “That’s good football. I love it. What a good effort by Cousins.”
The AFC recovered the fumble and assumed the victory formation, cementing their 20-13 win.