Stefon Diggs had never thrown a pass in 69 NFL games. Kirk Cousins had caught just one pass — off a deflection — in 92 NFL games.
And yet there they were on third-and-4 from the Packers 42-yard line, Diggs getting the ball on a reverse to his right and eyeballing Cousins wide open near the right sideline.
“A great play call,” Diggs said after Monday night’s 23-10 loss to the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“A great play call,” Cousins seconded after seeing his MNF record drop to 0-9.
Sorry, but we’ll have to agree to disagree no matter how wide open Cousins was.
Cousins gets paid $84 million to throw the ball in big games, like Monday night’s, when the NFC North was still on the line. Diggs gets paid to catch the ball, which he’s done pretty well while grabbing eight touchdowns in nine games against the Packers.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Diggs overthrew the ball. Or that Cousins didn’t have the speed to run it down.
Vikings defenders would never admit it publicly, but they had to be shaking their heads at that point.
Just before Diggs’ overthrow, the defense had forced three turnovers in 26 minutes against a Packers offense that had turned the ball over just nine times in its first 14 games.
Anthony Barr had a forced fumble on the third play of the game. Eric Kendricks had two fumble recoveries, Harrison Smith had a forced fumble and Anthony Harris ended Aaron Rodgers’ streak of passes without an interception at 278 with a beautiful pick.
The Vikings were leading 10-6 early in the second quarter, scoring 10 points off the first two turnovers on “drives” of 5 and 26 yards. Diggs scored the touchdown on a 21-yard catch of a perfectly thrown pass into tight coverage.
When Kendricks recovered Smith’s forced fumble, the Vikings took over at the Packers 46-yard line and were looking for more gifted points as Rodgers continued to struggle.
They moved the ball just 4 yards when offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski went to the Diggs-to-Cousins gadget play.
“We practiced it quite a bit for several weeks,” Cousins said. “Like you would any play. I was wide open. It was just a tough deal. Just missed it by a few inches.”
What say you, defensive-minded coach Mike Zimmer? Your defense had just given the offense the football in Packers territory for the third time in less than a half. Certainly, something a little more high-percentage was needed, eh?
“I told [the offensive coaches] we were probably going to go for it there [on fourth down], so they had a chance to take a shot,” Zimmer said. “I told them during the week to take their shots.”
The Vikings did go for it on fourth down. Cousins, who was 16-for-31 on the night, threw an ugly deep-ball incompletion to Adam Thielen and the Vikings turned the ball over on downs.
“Our defense played well enough to win the game,” Cousins said in the understatement of the night. “We had really good field position on the turnovers but weren’t able to get the touchdowns on all three that we wanted. Great plays by our defense, but we have to play complementary football.”
The offense generated 139 yards and seven first downs. Even with Rodgers throwing for 216 yards with a 68.3 passer rating, the Packers held the ball for 37 minutes and 32 seconds.
After the game, Diggs joked about the incompletion.
“I wasn’t warmed up yet,” he said. “Terrible pass. I should have just gave him a little easy one. He dove for it. I should have set up my feet.”
Asked if he’d rather be thrown the ball instead since that’s what he’s trained to do, Diggs smiled.
“No,” he said. “I want to throw the ball. It was a great play call. It was wide open. I just missed the throw. I’ve never said those words, but I see how it feels now.
“If I could go back in time right now, I’d probably run it.”
After the offense squandered that third takeaway with a gadget play, the Vikings never again took possession in Packers territory.