There have been plenty of important moments in Kirk Cousins’ Minnesota Vikings career. Moments when the purple have needed him to step up and come through. We’ve seen him succeed a few times, most notably beating the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome for his first playoff win. And unfortunately, we’ve also seen him fail a number of times. If you’re one of the Cousins haters, you likely have a go-to example that lands somewhere between his horrible late-game pick against the Green Bay Packers last year and his multiple duds against the Seattle Seahawks.
This might come off as a dramatic overreaction, but despite that long list of moments, a Week 10 matchup in Chicago might turn out to be the most important game of Kirk Cousins’ Vikings career.
Monday night’s matchup vs. a 5-4 Bears team in the middle of what looked like a lost season two weeks ago suddenly has fans on the edge of their seats.
In the Vikings’ recent two-game winning streak fueled by Dalvin Cook, Cousins has been able to play the role of a glorified game-manager. Hand the ball off, get out of the way and then execute a few easy throws that your all-world running back set up.
All Cousins has had to do for two weeks is not make a mistake.
I can’t anticipate that things will break this way on Monday night. With the entire football world watching, and the entire Vikings season hanging on by a thread, it will have to be Kirk Cousins time.
Let’s dive deeper into the argument for why this is the biggest game of his career.
Let’s not hesitate to jump into the most obvious storyline that everyone from the local papers to the national media will be covering come Monday night: Cousins is winless on Monday Night Football.
His 0-9 record is the worst of any quarterback on Monday night. Throughout his career, Cousins has played his worst football on the biggest stage. He has been labeled as an “under-confident, overachiever” who can’t get it done on the biggest stage.
Let’s be honest, Cousins has been bad this season. This has been the worst start for the 8th year pro out of Michigan State. He has his lowest quarterback rating (91.9) of his entire career, and he has thrown for more interceptions this season (10) than all of last season (6).
Although he has played error-free the last two weeks, remember that the Vikings offensive strategy has been to take the ball out of Cousins hands. They’ve run nearly double the amount of running plays (64) than they have passing plays (34) in this two-game stretch.
With all that in mind, a win for Cousins on Monday night would do wonders for his confidence, and he could potentially carry it through the season and begin to emulate his 2019 form.
Cousins vs. the Bears
Looking back at Cousins vs. the Bears, most people’s minds automatically go to the “win and in” game during Week 17 of the 2018 season. This was the same game where Fox NFL cameras caught Adam Thielen and Cousins getting into a yelling match on the sidelines that ended in Cousins showing the Pro-Bowl wideout how to run routes.
Although this hilarious incident encapsulates Cousins’ play vs. Chicago, I would rather point to Week 4 of last season, a 16-6 loss at Soldier Field. Remember the 3rd and 10 on the first drive when Cousins overthrew a wide-open Thielen, who had no defenders within 10 yards of him? It’s hard to shake the image of Stefon Diggs with his hands in a premature touchdown signal just before the ball dropped five yards out of the reach of an outstretched Thielen.
That loss to the Bears was probably the game that fractured Diggs’ relationship with the Vikings. Diggs didn’t report to practice until Thursday of that week, citing a cold as his reasoning for the absence.
That play showed how amped up Cousins was for this game, and missing his target on a momentum-changing throw surely must have harmed the confidence of Cousins for the remainder of the game.
The same approach they’ve had the last two weeks likely won’t work this week. The Bears defense was able to hold the league’s most physical runner, Derrick Henry, in check — only allowing him 68 yards on 21 carries. If the Vikings are to beat the Bears, Cousins needs to be at his absolute best, dispensing passes to his receiver and moving down the field with ease.
Post-2000 at Chicago
It’s always a tough game for Vikings every time they go to Soldier Field, even in years when the Bears have struggled. The 2009 Vikings team that went 12-4 and made the NFC Championship lost there in Week 16, 30-36, in overtime.
That Bears team went 7-9.
It’s not like that was a meaningless loss either. If they had won, they would have had home-field advantage through the entire playoffs. The Vikings were 9-0 at home, including an absolute demolition of a Tony Romo-led Cowboys team in the divisional round, 34-3.
No matter how good the Vikings are, or how much the Bears are struggling, going into Soldier Field is never an easy game.
Since the turn of the millennium, the Vikings are 4-15 in Chicago. The stadium contains ghosts of past losses. It was during a Monday night Halloween night loss in 2016 where a laminated play sheet flew into coach Mike Zimmer’s eye, leading to him having emergency surgery. The operation forced him to miss a crucial Thursday night matchup against the Dallas Cowboys.
Perhaps in the crazy year that is 2020, Cousins and the Vikings somehow manage to reverse all of these trends and emerge from the Windy City with a win as they look to keep their season alive.
So as silly as it sounds on a 3-5 team playing a 5-4 team, this is a defining moment. Cousins needs a win on Monday Night Football, the Vikings need a win in Chicago and Cook cannot carry the team in this one. This is the biggest game of Cousins’ Vikings career so far.