Mike Zimmer’s lack of faith in Case Keenum was apparent on a few occasions last season, even as the backup quarterback guided the Vikings to an improbable playoff victory over New Orleans and to the NFC title game. Zimmer’s comments regarding Keenum, including one that involved the quarterback being in possession of a horseshoe, made it clear he had concerns about how Keenum would play if the season was on the line.
Zimmer’s worst fears were confirmed in the NFC championship game when the Vikings were blown out 38-7 by the Eagles. The Vikings moved on from Keenum last March, allowing him to sign with Denver, and signed the biggest-name quarterback on the free-agent market.
Kirk Cousins received a three-year, $84 million fully guaranteed contract that made him among the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL. Cousins came to Minnesota from Washington to play for what was considered a Super Bowl-ready team and to win the types of games in which Zimmer feared Keenum would fail.
Just over nine months later, Cousins is going to get an opportunity to prove that he’s up to the task. The Vikings, coming off back-to-back victories over Miami and Detroit, will play host to Chicago next Sunday in their regular-season finale with a playoff berth guaranteed if they beat the Bears.
Minnesota can still make the postseason if they lose — an Eagles loss in Washington would eliminate Philadelphia and give the Vikings the sixth seed in the NFC — but the Vikings did not sign Cousins to help them back into the playoffs.
They signed him because they had faith the 30-year-old would provide them with the type of security they have lacked for so long at perhaps the most important position in sports. Cousins has posted some impressive statistics but the Vikings haven’t exactly wowed the NFL with an 8-6-1 record. Minnesota’s chances to repeat as NFC North champions were lost a week ago when the Bears wrapped up the division title.
The Vikings were a disappointing 6-6-1 two weeks ago before first-year offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was fired and replaced by Cousins’ quarterbacks coach, Kevin Stefanski. The Vikings cruised to a 41-17 victory over Miami last week at U.S. Bank Stadium and followed that with a 27-9 win on Sunday at Detroit.
Cousins and the Vikings’ offense looked pathetic early in Sunday’s game — the unit produced 5 (yes, 5) yards in their first four series — but rebounded after that. Cousins finished 21 of 28 for 253 yards with three touchdowns and a 137.9 passer rating.
Cousins has passed for 4,166 yards and 29 touchdowns in 15 games. That is 73 more yards than he threw for in 16 games last season with Washington. He has thrown two more touchdowns than he did a year ago and his 70.7 completion percentage would be a career high. But Cousins has thrown 10 interceptions and lost seven of nine fumbles. Cousins fumbled 13 times last season, but the seven he’s lost this year is a career high by two.
The Vikings’ bread-and-butter remains their defense, but they are going to need Cousins to play a mistake-free game if they are to beat the Bears. No interceptions, no fumbles, no unnecessary sacks.
We’ve seen enough of Cousins to know that might be a big ask for him — especially given his issues with fumbling — but when you’re making $28 million per season it’s fair to ask a lot of your quarterback.
Can Cousins deliver? We’re about to find out.