During a recent and revealing hour-long chat on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast, Gruden shed new light on one of the most ridiculous moments of his tenure, a play that Romo couldn’t have predicted if he had 100 tries.
Remember when quarterback Kirk Cousins inexplicably took a knee at the Eagles’ 6-yard line at the end of the first half of a must-win game in Week 16 of the 2015 season, costing Washington the chance to add to its 16-10 lead? The decision left Joe Theismann speechless and brought ridicule upon Cousins, though Washington would go on to win the game and clinch the NFC East title, rendering the strange sequence a footnote.
“Yeah, there was a lot of confusion with what the play call was,” Cousins told reporters afterward. “For a lack of a better word, I just had a lapse in my decision-making and took a knee when I should have thrown the ball away to stop the clock. We were fortunate it didn’t end up hurting us.”
“That wasn’t [Cousins’s] fault,” Gruden told Sheehan.
“That was Pierre [Garcon] and DeSean [Jackson’s] fault,” Gruden continued. “Kirk took a lot of heat for that, but that was all on — I can finally say it — that was Pierre and DeSean. They were two peas in a pod, now. That’s for a whole other podcast.”
Sheehan asked Gruden to elaborate, and he obliged.
“We had six seconds to go in the half, so we had time for just a back-shoulder fade, complete or incomplete and kick the field goal,” Gruden said. “ … I want to run the [clock] down and take a shot at a touchdown, what the heck? Pierre hated back-shoulder fades, he hated them. He said, ‘If you call a fade, the ball should be 42 yards over my outside shoulder, that’s the way Peyton Manning threw it [when the two were teammates in Indianapolis], that’s the way I want it.’”
A back-shoulder fade thrown in Garcon’s direction earlier in the game resulted in an incompletion. According to Gruden, Garcon acted on his displeasure at having the play called a second time.
“So he stood there, like three yards from a tackle, in a stance like he’s not gonna run it,” Gruden said. “DeSean is standing there like, ‘Just kick the field goal.’ Kirk panicked, he had nothing to do, so he just took a knee and that was the end of the half. I’ve never seen a receiver actually turn down an opportunity to score a touchdown, which is what happened on that play. Unbelievable.”
A frustrated Garcon walked off the field with his hands on his hips. CBS sideline reporter Evan Washburn asked Gruden for an explanation.
“I don’t know why Kirk took a knee,” Gruden said before heading into the tunnel. “I’ll have to find out at halftime.”
Gruden then took on the role of peacemaker.
“We had a fun time in the locker room on that one,” Gruden joked. “I always told people that I earned my entire Washington Football Team salary in one halftime, trying to get everybody to calm down and getting everybody ready for the second half.”
Cousins threw a couple of touchdown passes after halftime, including a 13-yard strike to Garcon, and Washington rolled to a 38-24 win. Gruden considers it his favorite game with Washington.
Despite that one-play debacle in Philadelphia, Gruden said he “loved” coaching Jackson and Garcon, who would both eclipse 1,000 yards receiving the following year before leaving in free agency.
“There were some jealousy issues, I think, between the two of them a little bit,” he said. “ … When they got in the huddle, I don’t know what happened, if they gave Kirk a hard time, made Kirk uncomfortable. ‘Throw me the ball,’ ‘throw me the ball,’ it could have been like that. But there wasn’t really the true camaraderie, I would say, between the three of them, in my opinion.”
As for a potential broadcasting career, Gruden said he has talked to a couple of outlets about doing studio work or color commentary.
“We’ll see what happens there,” said Gruden, whose older brother Jon left the “Monday Night Football” booth in 2018 to return to coaching. “I know it takes a lot of work and it’s easier on the couch to say, ‘I could do that.’”