Cousins explains fourth-down decision in 'toughest loss' as Vikings fall to Giants

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Kirk Cousins acknowledged "probably the toughest loss" of his career after the Minnesota Vikings were beaten 31-24 by the New York Giants in the Wild Card round.

The quarterback completed 31 of 39 pass attempts, throwing two touchdowns and rushing for another, but it was his final play of the game that will be remembered most.

With 1:44 left in the fourth quarter and Minnesota fourth and eight on their own 48-yard line, Cousins threw to T.J. Hockenson, who was still five yards or so short of first-down sticks.

The alert Xavier McKinney ensured Hockenson only went backwards from there and closed the game out as the Vikings saw their last chance evaporate.

After the game, Cousins explained the thinking that went into the play, saying: "I tried to work Justin [Jefferson], but didn't feel good about putting it up to Justin and then when I went to progress I just felt like I was about to get sacked. I felt like I had to put the ball in play and cant go down with a sack. I felt I'd kick it out to T.J.

"I'd thrown short of the sticks on a few occasions in the game and even going back a few weeks, and felt throwing short of the sticks isn't the end of the world. It was obviously tight coverage so didn't have the chance to pull away.

"It's probably the toughest loss I've had in my career, so it hurts."

Coach Kevin O'Connell backed his quarterback, adding: "Looking back on it, maybe he could've been a little bit more, 'Hey, this is where you want the ball to go', but I want Kirk to play, I want him to be free out there to make good decisions.

"In the end, I look at that as much as anything that it's on me with that play call, even if we had eligibles with a chance down the field. Maybe that's always a play that could be better. That one will always stick with me."

Cousin's opposite number Daniel Jones also threw two touchdowns, completing 24 of 35 passes in the game, and was described as an "elite quarterback" by team-mate Saquon Barkley after the win.

Jones said the Giants just had to overcome early nerves, and they were able to hold out after Barkley's touchdown halfway through the fourth quarter gave them a precious lead.

"I think there were definitely some nerves going into it," he said. "We were excited. There was a lot of anticipating going into it.

"Once we settled in and started playing, it felt the same. It was just about execution and doing our job play after play. I thought as a group we did that well."