Kirk Cousins: ‘This is only year one’

In Detroit, the Minnesota Vikings were hoping to carry over their offensive success from a 41-17 win over the Miami Dolphins last Sunday. But it took far longer than expected for Kirk Cousins and Co. to get rolling in the first half against a sputtering Lions team, which should act as a big fluorescent sign that they will still need significant improvement in order to be a dangerous in the playoffs. It didn’t help that the Vikings opened the game at their own 2-yard line and then immediately committed a false astart. After a QB sneak and fullback run, Cousins missed an open pass and they were forced to punt. Field position was not the Vikings’ friend throughout the first half. After allowing a field goal, Minnesota went three-and-out. On third-and-6, interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski surprisingly dialed up a handoff up the middle to Dalvin Cook. It went for two yards and the Vikings punted the ball away again. Drive No. 3 went three-and-out again. It was highlighted by a sack of Cousins on third-and-8. ”It’s tough when you’re backed up,” Cousins said. “If you want to play for getting out of the end zone, then you are wasting two plays sometimes and then you’re in third-and-long and you’re dropping back out of you’re end zone anyways. That can be tough.” Had Detroit’s offense not been the definition of ineptitude, they could have opened up a significant lead on the Vikings. Instead, Matt Patricia’s team decided to commit to running backward with LeGarrette Blount. Quarterback Matthew Stafford may be lacking his two best weapons — Golden Tate was traded at the deadline and Marvin Jones is out — but his inaccuracy was on display when he missed open receivers and nearly threw a fade pass into the hands of Mackensie Alexander in the end zone. With the Lions up 6-0, the Vikings took over and their own 22-yard line and went three-and-out again. On second down, Cousins took his second sack of the game. ”Many times I come back from a drive and I think about my process,” Cousins said. “How were my feet, how was my decision making, how did I handle my protections and did I throw the ball with accuracy and I just came out of those first few series and felt like I was OK. I felt like I was not at all in a bad place. I felt like we needed more opportunities and if our defense could keep us in it — as they did — we could turn things around.” Once again, Detroit failed to make them pay, ending another drive with a field goal. It’s hard to imagine playoff teams finishing short-field drives with field goals. It’s even harder to picture them allowing the Vikings to finish the first half with back-to-back touchdowns after such a poor opening performance. But it was only so long that the league’s second worst passing defense in QB rating allowed could hold down the Vikings. On third-and-17, Detroit completely forgot to cover the NFL’s second-leading receiver Adam Thielen, who strolled wide open down the sideline for 40 yards. Stefon Diggs’ quick out into the end zone brought them within two points. Had the Lions covered Thielen, we might have been looking at a first half repeat of the Monday Night Football mess that ultimately got John DeFilippo fired. Instead Detroit went full Detroit and allowed a last-second Hail Mary to land in the mits of Kyle Rudolph to put the VIkings up 14-9 going into halftime. Prior to the touchdown bomb, everything was going the wrong way. They committed two holding penalties and Rudolph forgot his team had a timeout left and nearly ran the clock out trying to reach the sideline. As is usually the case with teams out of the playoffs, the Lions were easily broken. They came out in the second half with little interest in hanging around. Cousins led a 69-yard field goal drive to open the second half and then found Rudolph for his second touchdown of the game. “I told [interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski] at halftime that they were loading up pretty good in the running game, don’t be afraid to come out here and hit some play-action passes,” Zimmer said. “So the first two plays out of the half were play-actions and we got some good gains on them and the run game started loosening up and we looked a lot more like ourselves.” Cousins finished 21-for-28 with 253 yards and three touchdowns. Rudolph put up nine catches with 122 yards and two TDs. The running game also picked up 100 yards. The sorry Lions offense picked up only 116 yards on 32 attempts from Matthew Stafford. The Vikings walked away with a victory, but long stretches of offensive struggle, sacks, penalties and struggles to run the ball early in the game could have ruined their chances to reach the playoffs. A performance like Sunday’s opening half  at Ford Field most certainly will send them home either next week against the Bears — depending on whether Philly wins — or in the postseason.

MINNEAPOLIS — Kirk Cousins took a big-picture view following the Minnesota Vikings’ season-ending loss to the Chicago Bears at US Bank Stadium.

“This is only year one,” the Vikings’ quarterback said following as 20-for-32 performance in the team’s 24-10 loss. “There are times in a season where I say, ‘boy, you give me another OTAs, another mini camp, another training camp that builds up a library of reps with these guys and get audibles and code words and go a little deeper with each guy and what their skill set is and what they do well, you could add layers to this offense and I’m excited about that.’”

Cousins and the Vikings put together just 164 total yards in the defeat, which combined with a win by the Philadelphia Eagles, eliminated them from the playoffs. Minnesota now will sit home during the postseason for the third time in five years under Mike Zimmer.

As far as answers for Sunday’s loss, Cousins did not have many in his post-game press conference, saying: “Combination of factors. Not any one thing. Just a combination. I’d have to go back to watch the tape to give you a clearer answer.”

Coming up short against the Bears marks the second time in his career in which Cousins had a  Week 17 game hold the keys to the playoffs. The last time came in 2016 against the New York Giants. His team suffered a 19-10 loss.

“It’s part of the journey,” Cousins said. “You play in this league long enough, you’re going to get kicked in the teeth. It’s going to happen. Tough times don’t last, tough people do, right?”

He finishes the year with a 70.1 percent completion percentage, 4,298 yards, 30 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 99.7 rating. In his four years as a starting quarterback, Cousins’ team has finished between 7-9 and 9-7.

“I’m always going to look at glass-half-full and always look forward with optimism,” he said.

On facing an offseason that is sure to be full of scrutiny because of the final result versus high expectations heading into 2018, Cousins said:

”Thirty-one teams are unhappy at the end of the year and don’t live up to what the goal was. That’s what you sign up for and you understand that. You want to be the one that’s happy but there’s 31 teams that aren’t. So I don’t know that you don’t win you say, ‘we didn’t do this or didn’t do that.’ I think you realize we’ve got to get better.”