Kirk Cousins has led the Minnesota Vikings on three game-winning drives in the past two weeks. While one was spoiled by a missed field goal, his play has taken the Vikings from the verge of a full-blown housecleaning to an intriguing team coming out of the bye.
His teammates have praised his leadership, and his “swag” has them believing they can make a run that nobody will see coming. In other words, Cousins is doing exactly what fans have been begging for him to do since he arrived in Minnesota.
But he’s also dragging the Vikings into football purgatory.
At this point, Cousins has become the Vikings’ version of Michael Myers. Even if the opposing defense doused him in gasoline, set him on fire, and entombed him in a plexiglass case, Cousins would break out just in time to save Mike Zimmer’s job.
The past two weeks have shown the cracks in what used to be a solid foundation for the Vikings. Although Zimmer is the third-winningest head coach in Vikings history, his decision-making and attitude toward the offensive side of the ball have kept his team from becoming elite.
It started against the Detroit Lions when the Vikings had the ball with a 16-9 lead. After a slow, methodical approach put the U.S. Bank Stadium crowd to sleep, Zimmer tried to finish off the Lions with six straight runs to kill the clock. But because they declined to pursue points at the end of the first half, their margin of error was much smaller than it could have been.
An Alexander Mattison fumble gave the Lions a new life, and they capitalized with a touchdown and two-point conversion. At this point, Zimmer’s tenure in Minnesota had to be flashing before his eyes. Somewhere in his thoughts of paint-soaked teddy bears and missed kicks, Cousins emerged from the haze to set up a 54-yard field goal that led the Vikings to victory.
The Detroit game was a warning, but Zimmer showed signs of acknowledging this couldn’t continue. He instructed his offensive staff to do some “self-scouting.” There was a chance we would see a changed man in Charlotte.
But after Bashaud Breeland intercepted Sam Darnold on the first play of the game, Zimmer showed that he hadn’t changed. With the Vikings parked on the six-yard line, Zimmer called for Greg Joseph, who put them on the board with a 25-yard field goal.
The Vikings eventually fell behind 7-3 but mounted another drive that put them back inside the Carolina Panthers’ 10-yard line. After an Alexander Mattison run and a checkdown to Adam Thielen, Zimmer again showed his true colors, kicking a field goal from the seven-yard line.
The game trudged along, and the Vikings eventually pulled away for a 28-17 lead. However, there were a few red flags along the way. Several players, including Justin Jefferson, put the ball on the turf. The special teams continued their high-wire act by having a punt blocked for a touchdown and missing a field goal. The Vikings also committed 98 yards worth of penalties, which kept Carolina in the game on an afternoon when their receivers dropped everything thrown to them.
Such flaws are why every point should be considered important and why Zimmer should show the willingness to open things up before knowing he has to. Air it out more. Play for points. Coach for outcomes over experiences. Unfortunately, the Vikings continued doing the same thing.
After the Panthers kicked a field goal to make it a one-touchdown game, Zimmer opened up the playbook for a 40-yard pass to Tyler Conklin but then returned to his favorite section. With two short passes and a run to the right, the Panthers forced the Vikings to punt.
If Zimmer had converted on one of the earlier goal-line situations, the Panthers would have needed a 98-yard drive AND another score to force overtime. Instead, everything was on the razor’s edge that Cousins has mentioned throughout this season, and Darnold threw a game-tying touchdown that had the Vikings on the ropes.
But that’s where Cousins came in with his metaphorical machete. He drove the Vikings down the field and set up Joseph to be the hero for the second consecutive week until his kick sailed wide left.
At that moment, Zimmer’s flashbacks returned. His job was in jeopardy again. Once more, Cousins rose from the ashes and left nothing to chance. With the Vikings stalling around the 30-yard line, he took the shot that everyone had been begging him to take. A 32-yard connection to K.J. Osborn and the Vikings were heading back to Minneapolis with a victory.
Fans have reason to be thrilled about the win, but Cousins’ comeback delays the inevitable. This will be a team without direction until they have a regime change. Each of the past two weeks, the Vikings have been on the verge of cleaning house, forging a new identity, and taking a step toward something more than .500.
Instead, Cousins showed up with an ax and slashed that dream to pieces.
The next few weeks will go a long way in telling whether Cousins is the hero in this story. Games against the Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers, and Los Angeles Chargers loom after the bye. If the Vikings can rack up some victories, they have a chance to be contenders in the NFC. But it seems like there’s too much going on to trust this team, and Cousins continues to keep the Vikings at the point of no return.