Kirk Cousins' first choice on last week's game-winning touchdown pass wasn't Chad Beebe, to be perfectly honest.
Take their word for it.
"From my perspective, I believe that when we broke the huddle, you were the least likely person to get the ball," Cousins said to Beebe during this week's episode of the Under Center with Kirk Cousins podcast presented by Fleet Farm. "You probably know that, knowing how I'm supposed to read that play."
Beebe replied: "It's funny you said that, because I kind of had the same thought, but I knew coming out of the huddle, it was supposed to be a 'clear' route, but you still want to win on this route instead of running aimlessly."
Minnesota moved the ball from its own 25-yard line to the Carolina 10 with five consecutive completions. The Panthers increased their pressure on the first-and-goal play that followed, and Cousins avoided trouble with a purposeful incompletion that left 50 seconds on the clock.
On second down, four Vikings ran underneath routes, and only Beebe headed for the end zone.
Beebe's job on the play from the left slot is to run a "clear" route that draws defenders away from an intended target.
The third-year receiver noticed defensive back Corn Elder was shaded toward Beebe's left. He sold a fake to the outside and smoothly transitioned to a skinny post, getting depth behind safety Juston Burris.
Cousins saw this from the shotgun and fired the ball to Beebe. One of the smallest Vikings (he's listed at 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds) went up, secured the catch, absorbed a hit by Elder and landed in bounds for his first career touchdown.
The six-pointer tied the score at 27, and Dan Bailey's extra point provided the final margin in a game that Minnesota (5-6) needed to move to eighth in the NFC Standings, one back of the seventh playoff spot held by Arizona (6-5).
The play, as well as other catches during the possession, followed an impressive stop by the Vikings defense that limited the Panthers to a short field goal after Carolina recovered a punt that Beebe had muffed at the Minnesota 9-yard line.
The turnaround was befitting a movie script for Beebe, who is possibly a little more Hallmark Channel than HBO.
But just drift for a second and indulge. Hear the Foo Fighters' "There Goes My Hero" in a crescendo as cinematic slow-mo makes its way through close-ups of Beebe and Cousins before the snap.
How about a clip that makes an offensive lineman's block look more dramatic than it seemed in this case? The release of the football from Cousins' hand, the leather spiraling through the air as Beebe goes up to secure it, then a signal by the refs (if a movie, Beebe would have landed closer to the end line than he did) and cheers by thousands.
"It sounds weird and maybe a little clichéd, but it did feel like that movie moment or that video game moment where time slows down and you hear the heart beat," Beebe said. "That's kind of how it was for me. Everything slowed down, and I just tried to win the route, and you put it exactly where it needed to be. Long story short, we made the play happen."
The pair of players who began their NFL careers as longshots — yes, Beebe's father Don played nine NFL seasons, and Cousins succeeded at Michigan State before his selection in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft by Washington — can point to their preparation and work ethic.
"I wasn't quite certain that he was going to come to me, but it's just about always being prepared like he could and would," Beebe added. "So I just ran the route like he was going to throw it to me, and sure enough, he did. It was a great pass. I think the relief came after the dropped punt and trying to make up for what we thought was lost."
Connecting with teammates
Cousins used part of the episode to dig further into Beebe's gridiron journey, from being coached by his father in high school to overcoming injuries at that level, in college at Northern Illinois and being sidelined in his first two pro seasons in Minnesota. The quarterback also shared that he had attended Don Beebe's House of Speed Camp during his youth in Chicagoland.
It's the kind of casual but informative conversation that Cousins has come to enjoy so much with teammates in two seasons of hosting the podcast with KFAN's Mark Rosen and help from Vikings.com's Chris Corso.
"I really enjoy two parts of the podcast: 1) being able to debrief about the previous game, win or loss, after having the time to watch the film, and being able to talk about it with a little more time and detail than what postgame press conference allows; and 2) I really enjoy being able to bring in teammates or people who are notable names around Minnesota to be able to get to know them better and ask some questions and take some time to have other listeners get to know them better.
"I've learned a lot more about my own teammates just by being able to do this podcast and bring them on," Cousins added.
Depending on the teammate, the talk could cover the previous week's game, the teammate's backstory to becoming a Minnesota Viking and/or off-field interests, ranging from Eric Kendricks' enjoyment of skateboarding to Ezra Cleveland's love of LEGOs.
Alexander Mattison explained the pride he has for family members who have served in the military (his father Darrell and grandfather James served in the Air Force, and his uncle Lawrence served in the Army).
Other guests have included broadcaster Dan Patrick, retired tennis pro and huge Vikings fan Mardy Fish, 2009 MLB MVP Joe Mauer and Gophers Head Coach P.J. Fleck.
Patrick, who grew up a fan of Ohio sports and attending Cincinnati Reds and early Bengals games, explained that he realized during the 1990 World Series (won by Cincy in a sweep of Oakland) that he needed to switch from pulling for specific teams in favor of the most compelling storylines.
"I don't root anymore. It's the hardest thing that ever happened. I miss the high, but I miss the hurt, too," Patrick explained. "When you lose a game, I don't feel anything, but I miss the feeling of watching as a fan.
"I root for a great storyline, no matter what it is. If you say Pittsburgh is going undefeated, I'll say, 'Great storyline,' " he added. "You get a surprise team that makes the playoffs … that's what I root for because it's easy to tell that story over and over."
Patrick explained how he didn't get a weekend sports job in Dayton but wound up working for CNN for 5.5 years. Unable to get a $5,000 raise for his next contract, he headed to ESPN, eventually becoming a longstanding anchor on the network's SportsCenter flagship program and encouraging the iconic "This is SportsCenter" commercials.
He later went independent for The Dan Patrick Show, building one of the best fan caves in all of sports that doubles as a studio.
"You've got to be lucky, but you have to be ready when you are lucky," Patrick explained.
Which brings us back to Cousins' preparations. Even in a season with so much uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the quarterback has tried to maintain his weekly in-season process that he's developed over time.
"Whether you're coming off of a win or a loss, you go right back to your routine, and I believe that having that routine — that I've continued to sharpen over my years of playing — is something that I lean on so that I can be consistent week-in and week-out to the best of my ability," Cousins said. "I do think in pro football that consistency is a big part, an underrated part of being in this league."
In five games since Minnesota's bye, Cousins has completed 105 of 145 passes (72.4 percent) for 1,293 yards with 12 touchdowns against one interception (passer rating of 124.3, the NFL's best this November). He's had a passer rating of 100 or higher in each game, helping the Vikings win four of five.
Regardless of how sharp the preparation is, a defense could still do something unexpected. Carolina was quite "multiple" for much of the game but then utilized just a three-man rush on four consecutive defensive snaps during Minnesota's winning drive.
"NFL defenses these days are pretty multiple, so even if you get a certain look on a play or two of a 2-minute drive, if it's a seven-play, eight-play drive, they're going to vary their looks," Cousins said. "They played big zones initially, rushed three guys, but then down in the red zone, they played tight man coverage. … I thought they had good scheme all game long and kept us off balance. We just had to be ready for whatever they were going to throw at us."
Cousins credited Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak's play calls and response as the game situations dictated a change in approach.
"Once we got behind and were running out of time, we had to be a little bit more of throwing the ball and into drop-back mode, but kind of just play the game that we have to play based on the situation and our plan," Cousins said. "I thought our offensive line did a great job, knowing that we had to drop back and throw late in the game, of being able to protect and slow down their pass rush, which gave us a great chance to hold on to the football a little longer in the pocket and find the open guy down the field."
My Cause My Cleats
For the second consecutive My Cause My Cleats game, Cousins is supporting Boys & Girls Clubs. The youth mentorship program is one that the Julie and Kirk Cousins Foundation has strongly supported since launching in October 2018.
Cousins visited the Mt. Airy Boys & Girls Club in St. Paul in-person last year and did so again last month virtually with help from a robot and rookie Justin Jefferson.
"I do believe young people are our future and are very impressionable. You want to provide a positive example and provide a voice of encouragement," Cousins said. "I think there's a lot of voices speaking to young people today that are telling them lies and sending the wrong messages. I want to come against that and be a voice to young people that speaks truth to them and encourages them and challenges them to set their sights high and be goal-oriented and really try to have a positive impact on others."
Fans in Minnesota can help Cousins' support of Boys & Girls Clubs with a simple cereal purchase at local Hy-Vee stores.
View photos of which causes Vikings players are supporting with their one-of-a-kind cleats in this season's 'My Cause My Cleats' campaign.
Cousins CinnaMINN Snaps, a limited-edition cereal, was released in October. All proceeds will be donated by the Julie and Kirk Cousins Foundation to Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities, which operates 10 sites throughout the Twin Cities.
"I love cereal to begin with. Hy-Vee asked me what I would prefer, and I said a cinnamon-type cereal would be my favorite," Cousins said. "I've been having my fair share of cereal bowls because I have a few boxes at my house, too. I say the flavor is a cross between Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Golden Grahams. I like those two cereals, so it's good by me."
Even before increasing his support of Boys & Girls Clubs, Cousins has focused on youth mentorship with football camps geared toward middle school boys.
"We chose middle school because we do feel it's an important age, an often overlooked age," Cousins said. "We really feel good about doing the camp for seven years, seeing the fruits of working with that age and hoping to speak truth and encouragement into their lives at a time when they're very impressionable."
By: Craig Peters