by Patrick P. Marek
There’s plenty of blame to go around after the Vikings’ heartbreaking 21-16 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field last Sunday. The defense was totally outcoached at the beginning of the game and spotted the Packers to an easy 21-0 lead. Dan Bailey missed another makeable field goal and had an extra point (to be fair it was a 48-yard attempt) blocked. Stefon Diggs had some dropped passes, one of which ricocheted into an interception, and committed the unpardonable sin of selfishly taking off his helmet on the field and posing after his touchdown pass, earning a 15-yard penalty.
Rookie center Garrett Bradbury fought for his life most of the game and had two costly holding penalties. The referees were particularly hard on Minnesota on Sunday, calling three offensive pass interference penalties, including one from New York that negated a Stefon Diggs’ touchdown. The normally decibel-challenged Lambeau crowd was amped up and was even louder than Fox commentator Daryl Johnston’s wardrobe.
However, the true culprit behind Sunday’s loss is the $29-million millstone around Minnesota’s neck, Kirk Cousins. Cousins was supposed to be the “last piece of the puzzle” for a Minnesota team that just missed the Super Bowl two years ago. He has a gifted arm and can make every throw required by an NFL quarterback. Apparently he is a loyal friend, tremendous family man, and gives unselfishly to charity. Unfortunately, as an elite NFL quarterback … meh.
Cousins has been breaking hearts throughout his NFL career by being uncontrollably skittish in big games. It’s hard to complete passes in crucial situations when both hands are around your neck. Who can forget the game against the Bears in last year’s season finale? It was win, or go home, and Cousins was flatter than 10-year-old 7-Up. Certainly, he had protection issues from the Vikings’ horrific offensive line, but his screaming hissy fit at Adam Thielen on nationwide television did not glorify him as a leader of men. Maybe that’s why nobody stands next to him on the sidelines.
Cousins regressed in the second half of the season last year, but this season dawned with the hope that an improved offensive line, a retooled all-star coaching staff, and a healthy Dalvin Cook would calm his jitters and bring out the Super Bowl winning quarterback that Rick Spielman and the Vikings’ brain trust were betting the farm (and their jobs) he could be.
So far, so bad. It was hard to find fault with Cousins’ 8-10 passing performance last week, but he did seem to have a hard time finding open receivers and feeling comfortable in the pocket. This week even Cousins admitted that he was the reason Minnesota lost to the Packers. “I’m very disappointed in my performance today,” Cousins said. “It just wasn’t good enough. I’ll stand up here and take ownership of that.” It’s great that Cousins was a stand-up guy for taking the blame for losing after the game, but the Vikings have been 9-8-1 since he took over as quarterback.
On Sunday Cousins completed 14 of 32 passes for 230 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. I would describe him as a deer in the headlights in the pocket, but a deer in the headlights would have looked more comfortable. His passes were frequently high and uncatchable to open receivers, and his ball security and field vision was questionable.
The game’s defining moment was the comeback-killing interception with first and goal and the ball on the eight-yard line with 5:17 remaining. Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison were unstoppable forces on the last drive. Green Bay was back on their heels. The call for a play action pass could have been brilliant … if anyone was open. If not, Cousins had been instructed to throw the ball out of the end zone and live to see another play. He forced a pass into double coverage and added another horrific loss to his resume.
So, what do we do with this guy? It’s not like we have Joe Montana waiting in the wings. We don’t even have Kyle Sloter anymore. I think that short-term Minnesota should force Cousins to be a Christian Ponder-like game manager and keep their eyes open for a gullible trade partner. Jacksonville perhaps? Kirk Cousins could have the best offensive line, running backs and receivers in football, and there would still be no chance of him leading the Vikings to the promised land.
Of course … I could be wrong. Stay Purple my friends.