MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings spent all week talking about how much things have changed since their Week 2 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. There certainly wasn’t much evidence of that on Monday Night Football. And in the process of their 23-10 loss to their division rival, the Vikings and their $84 million quarterback did little to convince fans that they can go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the NFL.
Following a forced fumble that set the Vikings up in the red zone on the Packers’ first possession, Kirk Cousins and the offense showed signs that it was going to be one of those nights — you know, those big-game performances that seem to haunt Cousins. With all sorts of talent on the field, he checked down to fullback CJ Ham twice — one of which he overthrew — and the Vikings settled for a field goal.
Like a song coming on the radio that you’ve heard 1,000 times, every one inside US Bank Stadium and millions of Vikings fans at home watching on ESPN could see the look in Cousins’ body language. On the second drive, Cousins’ first throw was batted down — a trend that mostly hasn’t followed him from last season but everything about Monday night was 2018-ish.
He picked up a first down on a short pass to Stefon Diggs on third down but checked down to Ham again and then was forced to throw a tight end screen into the ground. Cousins launched one up to Adam Thielen but in non-Thielen-like fashion he was unable to bring it in. This was one of those nights where Cousins looked around for someone to bail him out and nobody did. Not his O-line or Mike Boone or Kevin Stefanski, whose lack of screens, bootlegs and early-down throws could be questioned.
By the end of the first quarter, Cousins was 3-for-9 passing.
Meanwhile the Vikings defense was busy carrying over their performance from Los Angeles. They forced three first-half turnovers and the Vikings only came away with 10 points. They produced seven of those points on a beautiful throw from Cousins to Diggs that briefly made the folks in attendance think that the QB could shake off his slow start. Cousins floated a ball perfectly into the arena in which only Diggs could make the catch over star corner Jaire Alexander to put the Vikings up 10-3.
But it turns out those people would be wrong. It became quite clear early in the game that Green Bay’s defensive end Za’Darius Smith was going to demolish the Vikings’ offensive line and make Cousins very uneasy. Smith sacked Cousins on the fourth drive of the game, forcing a Vikings punt.
Just before halftime the Vikings had a chance to drive the length of the field with just over one minute remaining. Instead they went three-and-out and Cousins nearly threw an interception when targeting Laquon Treadwell.
The second half started much like the first: With a checkdown to CJ Ham. It got worse after that. Cousins threw a bomb to Diggs that was picked off, setting up the Packers’ go-ahead touchdown.
The Vikings have gone three-and-out on seven of their 11 drives.
— Chad Graff (@ChadGraff) December 24, 2019
With seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, Cousins had 92 passing yards.
And then he led an inspiring drive of checkdowns to Ameer Abdullah and threw a long touchdown that was called back on one of the most egregious holds in NFL history. The Vikings then punted on fourth-and-24, putting the perfect punctuation on a putrid showing.
Monday night might be another game that the Vikings learn from and perform better in the playoffs because of it. There’s also a decent chance it was the Ghost of Playoffs Future. That a playoff game, especially on the road, will include another helpless performance from the quarterback, who came into the game as one of the NFL’s best by nearly every measure from rating to PFF grade to QBR.
None of that matters to Vikings fans. Games like Monday night with stakes and drama and a quality opponent matter. Not 300-plus yard showings against Detroit or Denver.
If Cousins plays like this again, the Vikings’ season will end quickly in the postseason and everyone will look around and wonder how this was any different than what they’ve seen from the Ghosts of Playoffs Past.
What they said…
— Mike Zimmer was asked how the Packers contained the Vikings from using their usual play-action game.
“I think they were doing a nice job on the outside to try to keep us from running some of those,” he said.
— Zimmer on Cousins’ poor performance: “I’m not going to get into this ‘Kirk Cousins on Monday night’ thing and all that stuff. Offensively we didn’t play as well as we can play. I’ll say that.”
— Cousins on what they can learn from the loss: “We’ve got to go back and look at how, why and certainly the answers to those questions in theory should be of some help going forward. Not just if we play them again but in general. So we’ll have to study that and that would be the silver lining is just learning from the mistakes so they get corrected and that when big games are being played up ahead they don’t repeat themselves.
— Stefon Diggs on the trick play where he almost completed a pass to Cousins: “It was a great play call, he was wide open. I should have made a better pass instead of leading him so much. I should have set my feet instead of throwing on the run.
— Diggs on dealing with the loss: “We have to wipe the slate clean. The plan is to watch a lot of tape and try to fix the mistakes that happened tonight. This can be a good lesson for us.”