If Kirk Cousins hadn’t looked so shaken after the Vikings’ loss at Green Bay last Sunday, I wouldn’t say this. If the interior of the Vikings’ offensive line wasn’t such a mess in pass protection, I wouldn’t say this. If the normally blunt Mike Zimmer hadn’t spent all week handling his quarterback with kid-gloves, I wouldn’t say this.
But because Cousins did look so flustered, because his interior pass protection is so shaky and because Zimmer was careful with his words when discussing Cousins, there is only one conclusion that can be drawn about the Vikings’ game against visiting Oakland on Sunday. This is a must-win game for Minnesota and it’s extremely important that Cousins doesn’t screw it up.
This might strike some as a bit of hyperbole — after all, it’s only Week 3 — but when you give it more thought the importance of a win against a not-very-good Oakland team becomes more and more apparent.
The Vikings desperately need Cousins to play well. No interceptions, no fumbles, no terrible decisions that sink his team, like the one we saw in the fourth quarter last week when Cousins decided to unload the ball into double coverage, hoping that Stefon Diggs would catch it in the end zone, only to have Packers cornerback Kevin King pick it off.
Cousins took responsibility for that mistake after the game and continued to do so on Wednesday, even going so far as to say he wouldn’t be the quarterback here much longer if he continues to make those types of mistakes. This is the new and improved Cousins, at least from a public relations standpoint. A year ago, in his first season with the Vikings, he was much more likely to end up pointing the finger at some else for a mistake. That didn’t work out very well, so now Cousins just blames himself.
But that could be an issue Sunday. That’s because, for the first time since he signed a three-year, $84 million contract in March 2018, Vikings fans will be more than happy to pile on Cousins and make him the scapegoat.
Cousins’ had a bit of a honeymoon period last season, despite the fact he joined a team that was considered a Super Bowl contender and “led” it to an 8-7-1 finish that didn’t even get the Vikings into the playoffs. A win over a Chicago team that had nothing to play for in the regular-season finale would have clinched a postseason spot, but Cousins and his teammates couldn’t even beat the Bears that day.
It was expected that Year 2 of Cousins would be an improvement. Especially with the new Cousins friendly offense installed by Gary Kubiak, coordinator Kevin Stefanski entering his first full season in that role and a variety of weapons around him, including a healthy Dalvin Cook. So far, Cook has been fantastic and leads the NFL in rushing with 265 yards and three touchdowns in two games.
Cousins? Through two games he has either played a supporting role or been a liability. In a season-opening 28-12 victory over Atlanta at U.S. Bank Stadium, Cousins completed eight of 10 passes for 98 yards with a touchdown. Cousins talked afterward about the fact there would be times he would have to do more. So what happened when that was the case?
He completed 14 of 32 passes for 230 yards with a touchdown, two picks and a poor 52.9 passer rating in a 21-16 loss at Lambeau Field in which his fourth-quarter throw cost Minnesota the chance to escape with a victory after trailing 21-0 in the second quarter. Cousins also lost a fumble in the first quarter that gave the Packers a short field and turned into their final touchdown.
A year ago, the Vikings were coming off a 29-29 tie in Green Bay in Week 2 in which Cousins did not get off to a great start but helped orchestrate an impressive second-half comeback. He left Lambeau Field that day having completed 35 of 48 passes for 425 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.
The Vikings returned home to play 0-2 Buffalo and the assumption was the Bills would be knocked out early. That didn’t happen and Buffalo departed with a 27-6 victory. Cousins fumbled three times in that game, losing two, and ended up completing a season-high 40 of 55 passes for 295 yards with a touchdown and a pick.
There was disappointment about the loss but it was too early to think anyone was about to turn on Cousins. That’s no longer the case. As he gets set to start his 19th game with the Vikings, there is no doubt frustration is growing with Cousins and seeing him flustered after the Packers loss did not help matters.
Much like last season in Week 3, the Vikings are set to play host to what’s considered an inferior foe and the expectation is that The 84 Million Dollar Man will do enough to help the Vikings improve to 2-1. There are other factors, of course, including how rookie center Garrett Bradbury and the guards hold up in pass protection.
But Cousins has figured out — maybe with the help of others — that nobody wants to hear excuses for what’s going wrong around him. He’s the one making $27.5 million this season and he was the one considered to be the final offensive piece to the Super Bowl puzzle.
So if things start to go wrong Sunday, if Cousins throw the ball at the feet of a receiver early on, if the Vikings go three-and-out early in the game, if he throws a pass that’s picked off by the Raiders, odds are good Cousins will find himself hearing about it from the patrons at U.S. Bank Stadium in what could turn into a toxic environment.
The only thing that will be certain, especially if the Vikings lose, will be that they won’t need Cousins to blame himself because 66,000-plus fans will be pointing a finger in his direction.