By PATRICK P. MAREK
Vikings win 27-23
Kirk Cousins and the Vikings were definitely successful in changing the narrative about their dismal performances in big games and comebacks … and with a little luck, we all might live to see their next game. Sunday’s cliffhanger come-from-behind 27-23 victory over the 3-6 Denver Broncos was so heart stopping that the U.S. Bank Stadium officials might want to consider installing more defibrillators in the hallways.
Veteran fans of the Vikings expected their team to play down to the competition after the thrilling last-second win last week on the road against the Cowboys in prime time. However, nobody expected the first half to look like it was Hamline versus the ’72 Miami Dolphins. With a first-year coach and a rookie quarterback starting only his second game, the Broncos shredded a Vikings’ secondary that looked sleepy and confused. The vaunted Vikings’ pass rush couldn’t get consistent pressure without help, and Zimmer was reluctant to dial up his famous blitz packages. The result was that Broncos’ quarterback Brandon Allen was able to ignore the facts that he was playing in his first road game, in one of the most hostile environments in the NFL and calmly dissected the Vikings’ secondary with big-time throws and long-scoring drives. If it was third and 14, he would complete a pass for 15 yards. If it was fourth and forever … forget it! He was money on both short and long passes, and Minnesota seemed reluctant to tackle after initial contact.
Meanwhile, everybody knew that the Broncos’ fourth-rated defense was good, and they proved it in the first half. Dalvin Cook recorded his 1000th yard early in the first half, but only managed a total of 57 yards on 14 touches for the game. Cousins was under constant pressure from the Broncos’ base defense, and Minnesota had a number of promising drives sabotaged by costly (Zimmer called them boneheaded) penalties and mind-bending play calling from the bench.
The Vikings left the field at the end of the first half to a deafening storm of boos and a 20-0 deficit. You’re not going to find a more pro-Viking national announcing crew than Rich Gannon and Kevin Harlan, and even they couldn’t resist cranking up the stats. In the last 99 NFL games with a 20-point deficit at halftime, the composite record was 0-99. A lot of fans who don’t have to write a Vikings column clicked to the new Disney-plus channel in an effort to calm down … and of course the most perverse and contrary franchise in sports promptly scored four touchdowns on four drives to win the game.
WARNING! I am going to praise Kirk Cousins now. It usually goes against my nature to praise my car, lawn mower, snow blower, furnace, or Winona Post carrier … and certainly not the current Vikings’ quarterback, but I’ve been rather hard on Kirk, and I’m afraid I’m not going to get a Christmas card from him (I’ve been off of Zimmer’s list for years).
Cousins came out in a no-huddle offense to start the second half and stayed in it for the rest of the game. There was no margin for error, and Cousins was magnificent. Cousins completed 11-14 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns in the hurry-up against the Broncos, including a 54-yard touchdown to Stefon Diggs and a 32-yard catch and stroll into the end zone to tight end Kyle Rudolph. He also converted two fourth downs to keep drives alive.
Cousins has thrived this season when in the no-huddle offense. He looks calm, decisive, and most important … accurate. He finished the day 29/35 for 319 yards, three touchdowns and a 135.5 passer rating … and that was against a defense that was rated fourth in the league. With the running game shut down and a leaky offensive line that allowed five sacks, Cousins carried the team on his back, and engineered a comeback for the ages. Perhaps Kevin Stefanski and the Vikings should shed their incomprehensible offensive game plan and consider going into the no huddle earlier in games, especially against teams with good defenses and fearsome pass rushes.
There. Now that I’ve praised Kirk Cousins he’ll probably knock over a liquor store or trip over a crack in the sidewalk and sprain his knee. The most important thing is that Minnesota is heading into the bye with an 8-3 record. If the Vikings can get Adam Thielen back, re-energize their running game, and fix the problems in the secondary, the next five games should be very fun to watch. Just stick it out to the end of every game. No Disney-plus!
Stay purple my friends.