The numbers aren’t flattering for Kirk Cousins when he plays under the lights.
His loss at Chicago left him with a 4-12 record in 16 career night games, an unseemly record for a quarterback that was often placed in primetime as a member of the high-profile NFC East and will be subjected to his fourth primetime game of the season this Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.
“I think we’d have to go back through all the primetime games I’ve played and talk through them because every game is different,” said Cousins. “The previous team I was on, we won last year on Thanksgiving night, and I don’t think I played all that well and we won, so it gets a little bit convoluted when you try to look at a stat and pair it with a player. It becomes maybe a bigger, more complicated picture than just a win-loss record and trying to judge performance.”
Cousins is 0-3 thus far at night against the Vikings’ three toughest opponents. Minnesota lost a shootout 38-31 to the Los Angeles Rams on the road, fell 30-20 at home against the New Orleans Saints and were defeated 25-20 last Sunday in Chicago. The combined record of those opponents: 26-5.
“I think if there’s a difference [between primetime and daytime], it’s gonna be that you’re gonna be playing good football teams,” said Cousins. “We got flexed to that primetime last week because we were playing a really good football team, and if either of us weren’t good, I don’t think we’d get flexed.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer is 7-8 coaching in regular season night games for the Vikings. After starting his tenure 0-3 in primetime games, he had won seven of nine before a three-game losing streak this season put him below .500.
“I talked to the coaches about it the other day, and Terence [Newman] was in the room. I asked him, ‘Do guys really approach these games differently?'” Zimmer said. “Really, not so much. I don’t think maybe the players do as much as everybody else.”
Zimmer also mentioned the fact that primetime games often lead to matchups with the league’s top teams, as last week’s flex to Sunday Night Football indicated, which could be a reason for Cousins’ poor record.
To get a better idea, let’s look at Cousins’ 16 primetime performances more closely to see whether the 4-12 mark is indicative of his play or residual factors. Plus, we’ll see how good those primetime opponents were (their final season record is indicated in parentheses).
LOSS 45-14 vs New York Giants (6-10): Cousins first-ever primetime appearance did not go well. He threw four second-half interceptions and lost a fumble as the Giants ran away from the Redskins at Fedex Field.
LOSS 27-17 @ Seattle Seahawks (12-4): The second time around went better for Cousins as he played a turnover-free game with 283 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns. But Washington had eight drives of 18 yards or less and trailed by two possessions for most of the game.
LOSS 32-21 @ New York Giants (6-10): Cousins played poorly with two interceptions as the Redskins trailed 25-6 until there wer under four minutes left. Both his interceptions led to Giants’ touchdowns. Cousins ended the game with 316 passing yards, but many of them came late once the outcome was decided.
LOSS 19-16 vs Dallas Cowboys (4-12): The Redskins punted on their first five possessions to set the tone for a defensive struggle. Washington was stuck at nine points on three field goals before Cousins threw a touchdown pass with under one minute remaining to tie the game, but Dallas needed just 23 seconds to get in field goal range and give Dan Bailey a kick to win it.
WIN 38-24 @ Philadelphia Eagles (7-9): Cousins was brilliant as the Redskins clobbered the Eagles to keep their playoff hopes alive. He threw for 365 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions as the Redskins held a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter against Sam Bradford and Philadelphia.
LOSS 26-15 vs Carolina Panthers (6-10): Cousins threw one interception, fumbled once and did not throw a touchdown pass as the Panthers pulled away on Washington’s home field. The Redskins had nine drives that failed to gain over 10 yards and gained most of their yardage once the game was out of hand.
LOSS 38-16 vs Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5): Another zero-touchdown performance from Cousins, who threw two interceptions in the loss, one of which led to a short field and a Pittsburgh touchdown. The Steelers had a 24-6 lead before the Redskins started moving the ball offensively.
WIN 42-24 vs Green Bay Packers (10-6): A terrific game by Cousins. He threw for 375 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions while the Redskins scored points on their final six drives (besides kneeling at the end). Cousins’ 145.8 passer rating was his highest of the year as he outdueled Aaron Rodgers. The Packers went on a six-game winning streak after this to win the division.
WIN 24-10 vs Oakland Raiders (6-10): Cousins had his best passer rating of the year (150.7) as the Redskins rolled over the Raiders. He threw for 365 yards, three touchdowns and no picks, completing 83 percent of his passes.
LOSS 29-20 @ Kansas City Chiefs (10-6): This one was tight until the very end. The game was tied 20-20 until the Chiefs hit a go-ahead field goal with four seconds left and scored a wacky last-second touchdown on defense at 0:00. Cousins was spotty, just 14 for 24, but didn’t make many glaring mistakes in a tough place to play. He threw for two touchdowns and didn’t turn the ball over.
LOSS 34-24 @ Philadelphia Eagles (13-3): This game got out of hand early in the fourth quarter when Cousins threw an interception that allowed the Eagles to take a three-possession lead. He again threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns, but the Eagles controlled the second half.
WIN 20-10 vs New York Giants (3-13): The Redskins won this game with very little offense as Cousins accounted for all the touchdowns. With the score 3-3 at halftime, Cousins threw two touchdowns, as well as a Pick 6 to keep the Giants in it. Washington’s defense was too much, however, as Eli Manning amassed just 113 yards.
LOSS 38-14 @ Dallas Cowboys (9-7): Washington got outclassed in this game by the Cowboys, falling behind 24-7 by the first play of the fourth quarter. Cousins threw two interceptions and lost a fumble as Dallas poured it on late.
LOSS 38-31 @ Los Angeles Rams (10-1): Cousins kept the Vikings in a very difficult Thursday night game with arguably the league’s best team, throwing for 422 yards and three touchdowns. His one turnover, though, was costly: a strip sack in the fourth quarter that sealed the win for the Rams.
LOSS 30-20 vs New Orleans Saints (9-1): With the Vikings down 20-13 in the second half, Cousins threw a pick six to P.J. Williams that the Vikings wouldn’t recover from. New Orleans pulled away despite Cousins’ 359 yards.
LOSS 25-20 @ Chicago Bears (7-3): In his latest primetime loss, Cousins struggled out of the gate and threw two detrimental interceptions, include a fourth quarter pick six to Eddie Jackson. Though two late touchdown drives made the score close, Cousins’ first 3.5 quarters left plenty to be desired.
At the end of the equation, Cousins is 3-4 against teams with eventual losing records and 1-8 against teams with winning records — the lone win coming against a then 4-6 Packers team. He is 3-5 at home in primetime and 1-7 on the road.
He is not without some high-level play, though. In a quarter of the games Cousins had one of his best performances of that season to help his team win — or in the case of the Rams game, just stay in it. But very few of the losses have even been competitive late, with the exception of the Chiefs game last year and Cowboys game in 2016.
This would seem to be emblematic of Cousins’ season in Minnesota: high highs and low lows.
The quarterback doesn’t believe there is a meaningful trend with his subpar primetime record, saying that each game should be treated independently.
“The untrained eye is going to look at the final score, gonna look at a play or two and say, ‘Well, that was not a good performance,’ and a trained eye is gonna look a little deeper and say, ‘Well, let’s go play by play and say how we did,’ and it’s week to week, as every game is, regardless of when you play.”