KANSAS CITY — You knew from the very first drive that it was Bad Kirk time on Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Minnesota Vikings opened their contest against the Kansas City Chiefs in a manner that did not reflect their last four weeks of offensive excellence. Dalvin Cook had a pass bounce off his hands on the opening play and then Kirk Cousins tentatively flipped a pass into the flat in the direction of Adam Thielen but the low throw not only fell incomplete, it ended Thielen’s day. He came into the game with a “questionable” designation with a hamstring injury and did not see the field after the first drive.
The Vikings punted on their first two drives before Cousins got going. He found Laqon Treadwell twice on third downs to lead a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. But Cousins missed opportunities throughout the first half, including on the final drive of the first 30 minutes. With the ball at the KC 11, he failed to find Kyle Rudolph, Bisi Johnson and Stefon Diggs on three straight throws and the Vikings settled for a 10-10 tie heading into halftime.
At that point the Vikings’ defense had only given up one big play, a 40-yard touchdown pass from Matt Moore to Tyreek Hill. It took a diving catch from Hill to put seven points on the board for KC. The Vikings came through with a red zone stop with 4:38 left in the half to keep the game within a field goal.
To that point the defense largely looked like you might expect for a talented, Mike Zimmer-led group that was being leaned upon as the offense sputtered. In the second half, the defense showed — as it has on several occasions this year — that they cannot be relied upon to be perfect.
Midway through the third quarter, with the Vikings in the lead 16-10, they were set up with a chance to sink Kansas City’s chances at a win but a Garrett Bradbury penalty for ineligible man downfield pushed the Vikings out of field field range. Britton Colquitt’s punt put Moore and the Chiefs at their own 3-yard line.
In the Vikings’ best days under Zimmer, that would have meant the offense would soon get the ball back in prime field goal position. But this year they have shown more weaknesses than usual. Last Thursday Washington moved the ball and controlled the clock until Case Keenum got hurt. The week before Detroit and Matt Stafford put 30 points on the Vikings’ defense. Going back to Week 4, backup Chase Daniels was able to repeatedly complete passes and move the ball.
This time it was the big play that stung the Vikings defense. Running back Damien Williams burst through the line, juked out Anthony Harris with a Madden video game move and went the rest of the way for a 91-yard touchdown to put KC ahead 17-16 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Vikings went three-and-out on the next drive and the Chiefs again moved the ball, this time on a 7-play, 39-yard drive that set up a field goal.
And then Cousins came up with the drive he needed — the one to quiet the Arrowhead crowd and the crowd that believes he’s incapable of stepping up in an important situation. He found Irv Smith for a 15-yard gain, got a pair of explosive runs from Dalvin Cook and Stefon Diggs and then closed out the drive with a beautiful touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph.
Cousins overcame some frustration — that was caught, as always, by the FOX TV cameras — to give his team a chance to win.
The defense, however, showed its weakness again. After sacking Moore on second down, the Chiefs’ quarterback found Hill open over the middle for a first down. He created separation from Xavier Rhodes, who has struggled to shut down receivers as he did in the golden age of the Vikings defense. Moore then heaved the ball up to Hill down the sideline and he jumped over Trae Waynes for a 41-yard to put KC in field goal position.
Harrison Smith came through with a sack on third down but the Chiefs were still able to tie the game at 23.
Bad Kirk returned on the subsequent drive. Not only did he go three-and-out but Cousins’ only completion was a 7-yard loss.
The Vikings’ defense had a chance to redeem itself for a day of allowing big plays in big spots after Colquitt shanked a 27-yard punt to put KC at mid-field. Maybe two years ago they would have. This time around, Hill found space in the middle of the field for a first down to set up a game-winning field goal.
Here’s what it means: If the Vikings want to prove themselves as legit contenders, they can’t have Bad Kirk show up for any length of time. They can’t put everything on their defense. Otherwise they will end up walking off with the same defeated feeling as they did on Sunday at Arrowhead.