GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A sullen Kirk Cousins took full responsibility for the costly interception he threw in the fourth quarter of a 21-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers that stunted the Minnesota Vikings' chances of taking a late-game lead at Lambeau Field.
"There's no justification," Cousins said. "It was unacceptable, it put my team in a terrible position. We had worked so hard to get down there, had a great chance to take the lead, potentially win the game. I just took it out of our hands by making that throw."
Trailing by five in a game in which costly penalties and shaky quarterback play plagued the offense throughout, Minnesota worked its way down to Green Bay's 8-yard line on a drive that featured seven runs, including a 6-yard scramble by the QB. With 5 minutes, 17 seconds to play, the Vikings put the game in Cousins' hands, and the quarterback made an ill-advised throw on first down, launching a deep ball into double coverage in the corner of the end zone.
The pass was intended to be a tight-window throw to Stefon Diggs. Instead, Packers cornerback Kevin King got in front of the Vikings wide receiver, who was running parallel to the back line of the end zone, and picked off Cousins' pass.
"You just can't do that," Cousins said. "It happened last week in our game, against us, and we talked about it all week how you can't do that. It's uncharacteristic of me. I can't do it. What I was thinking was, give Diggs a chance, kind of an 'ours or nobody's' thing. It wasn't nobody's, he [King] went and made a play. You just can't do that."
With Green Bay nose tackle Tyler Lancaster barreling down on the QB, Cousins should have opted to throw the ball out of bounds. There was a chance, the quarterback said reflecting on his decision to make that throw, that if Diggs didn't come up with the ball, it would have sailed out of the back of the end zone, but the interception proved to ultimately be the defining moment of the loss.
"If you're going to throw it that way, you can't throw it," Cousins said. "That's the kind of stuff you say is like Day 1, you can't do that."
Dalvin Cook rushed 20 times Sunday for 154 yards and a touchdown, including a 75-yard run that got the Vikings within two scores in the second quarter, and the team finished with 198 yards on the ground. Despite how well Minnesota was running the ball on the Vikings' second-to-last drive, offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski opted to call a pass play.
The decision to not run on first down was addressed postgame, but ultimately Cousins pushed the notion aside that playcalling was the underlying issue.
"That's a good question," coach Mike Zimmer said about the Vikings' playcall. "We thought we had them tired, they were having trouble getting lined up and we thought we'd catch them."
Added Cousins: "Certainly you say that on the sideline afterward. Everybody said, 'Aw, we should've run it.' But I shouldn't have put our coordinator in that position. I should throw the ball away and move to the next down. And you're right. We had run the ball well and I guess that's a huge positive when I look at the first two weeks of the season, a huge improvement from last year is we're running the football well. You run in this league -- when you do that you can win games week in and week out."
Cousins completed 14 of his 32 pass attempts for 230 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions to finish with a 52.9 passer rating. The quarterback came up empty on all three trips Minnesota made into the red zone, including his fourth-quarter interception. Cousins is now 0-for-4 in the red zone this season.
The QB's outing in Green Bay was defined by a handful of moments at opposite ends of the spectrum; plays like the 61-yard pass he made to Chad Beebe while being tackled from behind and a perfectly placed deep ball that Diggs turned into a 45-yard touchdown were soured by a handful of other mistakes Cousins shouldered responsibility for.
By the second quarter, Cousins had two fumbles, one of which he lost, and had thrown his first of two interceptions by targeting Diggs over the middle of the field on third down with four defenders around him.
"It changes the flow of the game," Cousins said. "Those are the ones you are really frustrated about when you're walking to the sideline."
Zimmer was not willing to fault Cousins for the entirety of what played out in Sunday's loss and chose to consider both the good and bad moments, when he was asked why he remains confident that Cousins is the right QB to lead this team.
"Today he made a couple mistakes, but the guy made some great throws as well -- the throw to Diggs," Zimmer said. "He's got all the talent, and we just need to continue to coach him the way we want to play."
Cousins' game-changing interception wasn't the only play that cost the Vikings their first road win of the season. Ahead of halftime, Cook was flagged for offensive pass interference after Diggs' scored on a 3-yard touchdown. On the play, officials believed Cook blocked Packers safety Darnell Savage in the end zone, allowing Diggs to be wide open on a crossing route while receiving a short pass from Cousins.
The penalty was not called during the play, but instead after the touchdown. The NFL requires clear and obvious evidence of a mistake in order to reverse a call made on replay, which put the new pass interference rule under fire.
Following the game, NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron explained why the officials felt they had enough evidence to nullify Diggs' TD.
"Every time, by rule, there's a score or turnover, here in New York we automatically take a look at all aspects of the play, which this year includes obvious visual evidence that No. 33 [Cook] hinders the opponent while the ball is still in the air," Riveron said. "Therefore, we negate the score and call offensive pass interference here from New York and penalize them 10 yards."