GREEN BAY — A year ago, the Vikings left Lambeau Field following a tie believing that their three-year, $84 million investment in Kirk Cousins might pay off in a big way. On Sunday, the Vikings departed Lambeau after a 21-16 loss to Green Bay likely wondering if Cousins’ rich contract will end up costing people their jobs.
Cousins took full responsibility for what went wrong in a game in which the Vikings fell behind 21-0 in the second quarter but had a chance to take the lead with 5 minutes, 17 seconds left in the fourth quarter. That was when the Vikings decided to put the game in Cousins’ hands and ruined their chances of escaping with a miracle victory and 2-0 record by doing so.
A series that began at the Minnesota 40-yard line and featured seven runs (for 47 yards) and a 5-yard pass to Kyle Rudolph to put the ball at the Green Bay 8, featured a scrambling Cousins making an ill-advised throw into double coverage for Stefon Diggs in the corner of the end zone. It was intercepted by Packers cornerback Kevin King. It should have been thrown away. Everyone in the stadium knew that. Ideally, the Vikings would have kept running the ball considering it was first-and-goal and Dalvin Cook was having a wonderful day.
Cousins finished 14-of-32 for 230 yards with a touchdown — a nice 45-yard pass to Stefon Diggs in the third quarter that pulled the Vikings within five — and two interceptions (it should have been three but Packers corner Jaire Alexander dropped a pick on the possession after King’s interception.) Cousins also had two more fumbles — bringing his season total to four — and lost one on a first quarter sack that gave Green Bay a short field and a touchdown.
Everything that Cousins has worked on fixing during his eight-year NFL career wasn’t fixed on Sunday. So Cousins took responsibility? So what? If that’s the biggest change he’s made since 2018, it’s not good enough.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was asked afterward why he remains confident that Cousins can lead his team to a Super Bowl? Zimmer is often blunt in his remarks, but this time he was very careful not to throw his quarterback under the bus. “Today, he made a couple mistakes, but the guy made some great throws as well,” Zimmer said. “The (touchdown) throw to Diggs … so he’s got all the talent and we just need to continue to coach him in the way that we want him to play.”
Coach him in the way you want him to play? This isn’t some rookie just starting out. This is a guy who was considered the final piece to a Super Bowl puzzle two years ago, because you didn’t trust Case Keenum to get you over that hump. You don’t guarantee an NFL player’s contract in full — something that is unheard of in this league — in order to coach him up.
You give him that contract so you get a day like this: 35-of-48 for 425 yards with four touchdowns, one interception and a 118.8 passer rating. Those were Cousins’ numbers in the Vikings’ 29-29 tie with the Packers last season at Lambeau.
Anyone who believes Cousins can do that on any type of regular basis is naïve. Cousins threw 10 passes in the Vikings’ victory over Atlanta in Week 1 and it was applauded in this space because it made him into a game manager in Gary Kubiak’s offense. That’s the role Cousins should be asked to play because asking him to play a starring role is inviting in-game disaster.
Kubiak’s scheme was supposed to put Cousins more at ease, but instead he never looked more flustered than he did on Sunday. He missed his wide receivers with throws that sailed high. The pressure he felt, in part because the Vikings did little to fix the pass blocking deficiencies in their offensive line, resulted in a few passes that simply bounced in front of the receivers.
Cousins’ first pick came in the second quarter when he telegraphed his intentions, allowing safety Darnell Savage to jump the route, and linebacker Preston Smith to intercept a pass intended for Diggs. That came on third down. The Vikings finished 4-of-13 on that down. Not exactly what you would expect with a veteran quarterback leading the way.
The shame of the loss was that Cook’s day now means little. He rushed for 154 yards on 20 carries, averaging 7.7 yards per attempt, and scored the Vikings’ first touchdown on a marvelous 75-yard run. That performance comes after he went for 111 yards on 21 carries with two touchdowns against the Falcons. Cook is the star of this offense.
“There’s no justification,” Cousins said of his fourth-quarter pick. “It was unacceptable, it put my team in a terrible position. We had worked so hard to get down there, had a great chance to take the lead, potentially win the game. I just took it out of our hands by making that throw.”
The sad reality is that the more Vikings decide to take it out of Cousins’ hands, meaning they’ll need to rely on defense and Cook, the more they will give themselves a chance to win games. Cousins reminded everyone of that on Sunday by managing his team right into defeat.