There was a time when Kirk Cousins was a feel-good story. A fourth-rounder in 2012 who was selected to back up Robert Griffin III, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner and the No. 2 overall pick in the same draft behind Andrew Luck. Griffin was Washington’s franchise quarterback; Cousins a steady hand should RGIII get injured.
We all know what happens to the best-laid plans, though. The FedEx Field grass, which isn’t native to the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, ravaged Griffin’s knees. Mike Shanahan’s insistence that he play through injury eventually derailed Griffin’s career and cost Shanahan his job. In comes Cousins, an aw-shucks good ol’ boy from Holland, Mich. who loves Star Trek and drives a dented van, to save the day.
He had made nine starts backing up RGIII during their first three years in the league, then took over as the full-time starter in 2015. Washington was 2-4 coming off a loss to the New York Jets entering a Week 7 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the bye. Up to that point, he had 24 touchdown passes and 27 interceptions and had a 4-7 record as a starting quarterback.
Following that game, he would throw 23 touchdowns and only three picks the rest of the season. Washington went 6-3 after the bye, make the playoffs and everyone lived happily ever after. Right?
Well, not exactly. But something happened in that game. Cousins has thrown 157 touchdowns and 27 interceptions since then. He was franchise-tagged twice by Washington and then signed with the Minnesota Vikings in 2018, taking over a defense-oriented team that had ridden a miracle to the 2017 NFC championship where they got shafted by the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
And here we are: Week 14 with the Vikings 6-6 heading down to Tampa to take on a Hall of Fame quarterback in a must-win game. A loss and their playoff hopes are all but over. A win and they can keep their hopes of becoming the second-ever 1-5 team to make the playoffs alive.
Cousins needs another “You like that?!?” game.
Everyone remembers Cousins’ outburst as he emerged behind a media screen littered with the Washington Football Team’s racist symbol, which the NFL outlawed this year. “You like that?!?” he screamed, his voice cracking as he gestured towards the assembled media. “You like that?!?”
Was he frustrated, vengeful, or simply inquisitive at that moment? Nobody will ever know. But Cousins’ signature phrase was born that day.
He’s frequently used it in jest multiple times since then. Teammates have used it as a sign of solidarity. Opponents have used it mockingly. Cousins himself used it at the end of the speech he gave the Vikings following their game-winning drive in the playoffs against the New Orleans Saints last year.
But the genesis of it is worth looking back at this week.
Enamored by his rubber arm, two 13-0 seasons at Florida State and the 4.4 he ran out of Publix, Tampa Bay ignored his transgressions and took him No. 1 overall in the 2015 draft. In his seventh career start against Washington, he’s thrown a touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage and has the Bucs up 17-0 halfway through the second quarter.
Then, in a play that has become unfortunately familiar to Vikings fans, Cousins fumbles as he’s sacked and Tampa runs it back to make it 24-0. Future New York Giants great Colt McCoy looks on from the sidelines, wondering if he’ll get an opportunity in the second half, while kid genius offensive coordinator Sean McVay drums up a gameplan to snap Washington out of its doldrums.
Then, four minutes later, Cousins scampers for a touchdown on a keeper to make it 24-7. Early in the third, with Washington on the goal line, McVay runs a play that leaves Ryan Grant uncovered and Cousins hits him to make it 24-14. Cousins threads the needle following an onside kick to make it 24-21. And then, with Washington down 30-24 with less than two minutes to go, he would engineer a game-winning drive.
You like that?!?
Cousins needs another “You like that?!?” moment against the Bucs this Sunday. This time it’s in central Florida against Tom Brady, and Kirk himself is a more known commodity.
Steve Kornaki, who introduced a national audience to obscure counties in Florida during the election, gives the Vikings a 33% chance to make the playoffs following their win over the Jacksonville Jaguars last week. ESPN thinks Hillsborough County is more red than purple, giving them a less than 40% chance to win the game.
Cousins has to be at his best on Sunday if Minnesota is gonna win this one.
He’s had breakthroughs recently. The playoff win in New Orleans. Beating the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Monday Night Football. A game-winning drive against the Carolina Panthers. Beating the GOAT? Everyone would like that.