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The Kirk Cousins Blame-O-Meter: When the going got tough, the QB didn't get going

Kirk Cousins
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws against the Tennessee Titans during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS — We picked a heck of a season to start doing the Kirk Cousins Blame-O-Meter. The Vikings’ blew a 12-point lead in the third quarter in a 31-30 loss to Tennessee at U.S. Bank Stadium as their defense collapsed. But that doesn’t mean the quarterback is off the hook for this one or his team’s 0-3 start. So let’s go.
The numbers: Cousins finished 16-of-27 for 251 yards with three touchdowns, two interceptions, two sacks and a 96.4 passer rating.
The reality: Cousins got a huge break when his first pass of the third quarter was intercepted by Titans cornerback Johnathan Joseph and returned 31 yards for a touchdown that would have put the Titans within a point of the Vikings. The touchdown was nullified because of an illegal blindside block that the Titans’ Jadeveon Clowney threw on rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who was the intended target of the pass. That would have given Cousins three picks in the game and gotten plenty of well-deserved attention. Instead, the Titans ended up going backward after getting the turnover and had to punt.
How bad was Kirk when it mattered? Let’s use this category to break down the Vikings’ final series of the game. The Titans’ Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 55-yard field goal to give the Titans a one-point lead with 1:44 remaining in the fourth quarter. Cousins and the Vikings took over on their own 25 yard line. This was the exact type of possession that if Brett Favre got the ball, you’d be glued to the television because you knew his team would have a chance. With Cousins having the ball? That was another story. An incomplete pass to Dalvin Cook ended up being no play as a roughing the passer call moved the ball to the Vikings 40. The ensuing sequence went like this: Incompletion, bad snap from Garrett Bradbury that Cousins recovered and put the ball back at the Vikings 26, another incompletion and, finally, an interception by the Titans’ Amani Hooker on a desperation heave on fourth down. There was never a play on which it appeared Cousins was going to lead his team down the field.
Not Kirk’s fault but … : There will be some Cousins’ apologists who will say the quarterback shouldn’t be blamed for the ineptitude on the final drive but it starts with him. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer called that drive “chaos” in his postgame comments, pointing to the fact that the Vikings have several veterans on offense. Cousins’ response? “I’ll have to go back and watch the film. You’ll have to ask coach specifically what he meant.” It isn’t difficult, Kirk. What Zimmer meant was he expects you and the offense to have a chance to go down the field and get into field-goal territory.
How were the stats padded? It’s actually how were the stats not padded? The maddening thing is if the Vikings had been down by more than a touchdown entering that last drive, Cousins undoubtedly would have played free and easy and guided the Vikings to points. That’s exactly what he did in Week 1 against the Packers after Green Bay had continued to put the game out of reach. But with the pressure on, Cousins didn’t stand a chance.
Any positives? Absolutely. At least for the first three quarters. The Vikings seemed to realize that they had drafted wide receiver Justin Jefferson in the first round for a reason. Jefferson caught seven passes (nine targets) for 175 yards and a touchdown. That 71-yard scoring catch in the third quarter gave the Vikings a 24-12 lead. Jefferson also caught passes of 31 and 33 yards in the first half, with the 31-yarder setting up a Cousins to Adam Thielen scoring pass in the second quarter. Somehow, Jefferson was not targeted in the final quarter.
The Kirk Blame-O-Meter says: Here’s how this will work. Zero means Cousins has no responsibility and a 10 means it’s all his fault. So where does the Blame-O-Meter fall for Sunday? We’re giving Kirk a 7 in large part because he’s in charge of leading the offense and came up woefully short when it mattered in the end.