The Redskins had a number of chances to close out the Saints Sunday, but Kirk Cousins drawing an intentional grounding penalty on their final drive in regulation was their most egregious blown opportunity.
Washington had 31 seconds on the clock and a fresh set of downs, and 34 yards between them and victory. With no timeouts remaining, Cousins takes the snap, immediately turns to the sideline and heaves the ball out of bounds, inducing a crippling intentional grounding penalty.
The Redskins were then faced with second-and-20 and a ticking clock, Cousins takes a sack-fumble and time expires. The Saints win in OT.
The intentional grounding play was a designed run, Cousins told 106.7 The Fan’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier during his weekly segment Monday — ‘Under Center,’ driven by the Lindsay Automotive Group. The problem, Cousins explained, is the Saints stacked the box. At that point, Cousins looked to the sideline and saw head coach Jay Gruden mouthing the words ‘throw it.’
The irony, here, is the play and all the thinking that went into unfolded in a matter of seconds. It took Cousins five minutes to explain after the fact.
“We’re running a one-back power play and I’m gonna hand it off,” Cousins said. “We’re running it at all costs. We have no timeouts left, so once he 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 Jay, I believe, saw the blitz that was coming, the look from the defense, and he knew the run was pretty much stuffed,” he said. “And, typically, when we have that run play called, if we were to get that, I, in the huddle, tell the receivers to run a route that enables me to throw the ball as an answer to that look, rather than complete the audible out of the play. In the huddle, I didn’t say that, because I’m saying this is a run-at-all-costs play. We’re just gonna run it. That’s the whole point we’re calling this play, is to run it.”
Cousins was asked, as he stepped to the line before the play, if that’s when he was supposed to communicate to the receivers to run a route.
“It all happened so fast. I don’t know if we had used our timeout in that moment, or if Jamison [Crowder] had stepped out of bounds, but I believe it was a stopped clock,” Cousins. “But if we had been up at the line of scrimmage running, yes, I would have either had to use hand signals or just use my voice to communicate the play. But I still could have hand-signaled the route, but we didn’t say it because I thought this is a run-at-all-costs.”
“The whole point we’re calling a run is to run it,” he said. “If we want to throw it, we’d call a pass. 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 mean, 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. If anything, we’re gonna lose yards, and right now, on the 34-yard line, yards are precious.”
“And I’m thinking, well, Crowder and [Josh] Doctson are over there,” he said. “If I literally just throw it over their heads, they’re in the area; they’re eligible receivers. 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.”
Here’s what defines intentional grounding, per the NFL rule book (emphasis, mine):
It is a foul for intentional grounding if a passer, facing an imminent loss of yardage because of pressure from the defense, throws a forward pass without a realistic chance of completion. A realistic chance of completion is defined as a pass that is thrown in the direction of and lands in the vicinity of an originally eligible receiver.
Cousins did not appear to be facing an imminent loss of yardage because of pressure from the defense.
Cousins goes on to explain that, when he threw the ball, “It looks like I’m throwing to nobody, but, in my opinion — or before I threw the ball, my opinion was they’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,” he 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 with it.”
Paulsen mentioned a Mike Jones report hours after the game, saying the league admitted to, essentially, the officials goofing the call.
Asked if his intent was to burn the ball and stop the clock, Cousins said, “Yes. It was essentially like clocking it. I wanted to just spike it.”
“I wanted to throw it at Jamison’s shins, which would have been better,” he said. “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 they would have said, ‘Oh, there’s a receiver in the area.’
“But 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 their judgment of the call. It just gets to be a little gray.”
Cousins admitted, after being penalized for intentional grounding, to not knowing the clock was running.
“I didn’t realize the clock was running. Didn’t know that,” he said. “I was just trying to make sure our protection was good, because they brought a pressure and I wanted to make sure we were picked up. And I felt like, if we can get five, 10 yards here, who knows? Maybe we’re back in field goal range and we still have a chance, so 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, and then you saw what happened.”
On Washington’s second-to-last drive in regulation, Samaje Perine gets stuffed on the third-and-one, forcing a Redskins punt. Were you disappointed you didn’t get a chance to throw something? — Fredrick in NW
“Well, I think in that situation — third-and, I want to say, less-than-a-yard — you probably don’t throw it there, just situationally,” Cousins said. “Now, whether you run a sneak or a power play, or an off-tackle run, I mean, that you can debate or talk about.”
“But I think the call there, with less than a yard, is you run the ball and you try to get that yard and keep the clock running, and basically win the game on that play,” he said. “But we were unable to get the yard. We punt back to them and they go down and score.”
Cousins then circled back to the intentional grounding penalty, specifically to the league admitting it was the wrong call.
“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. “Because there’s nobody bringing that up in February and March when we’re making decisions about which direction to go with the organization.”
“That’s the kind of thing that, we appreciate the clarification, but it really doesn’t do much,” he said. “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 has such a major impact on the direction of our lives, when we’re in it and doing it every day.”