Rarely does the NFL schedule gift teams with a Thursday night game one week, followed by one on Monday night the next. This creates a 10-day window between games, which is the exact tactical advantage the Minnesota Vikings have rolling into a matchup with the Chicago Bears. That much preparation time would give most teams a significant leg up, but when Kirk Cousins is your QB, all bets are off.
By now, everyone knows about Cousins’ struggles under the lights his entire career. Specifically, he boasts a laughable 1-9 record on Monday Night Football. That stat is far from comforting if you’re a Vikings fan, but the lone win came a year ago against — you guessed it — Chicago.
Not only did Cousins overcome primetime demons, but he also did it on the road. The ugly 19-13 victory was powered by a solid 292-yard, two-touchdown day from Cousins. More importantly, though, Minnesota leaned heavily on Dalvin Cook, giving him the ball 30 times.
The question remains: What Cousins should people expect to see this week? Captain Kirk has been in the crosshairs of keyboard warriors all season long. Some fans have doled out unwarranted praise while other so-called football experts criticize Cousins for the most minute things. For reasons I cannot explain, whether or not Cousins is a good QB has become the most prominent hot-button topic in the football world.
The fact of the matter is, it’s not that black or white when it comes to Cousins. There are many shades of grey. His stats this year speak for themselves, but the most impressive thing he has been able to do is take care of the football. He holds the lowest interception rate in the league while still throwing for 369 yards and 27 touchdowns in 13 games.
He also hasn’t been perfect, which was on full display against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In a game where Minnesota was leading 29-0, Cousins was an integral part of opening the door for a team that should have never been in the game. Sure, the first interception isn’t on him. But the second one absolutely is.
Cousins stares down his first read and goes with it despite K.J. Osborn stumbling out of his break, giving Ahkello Witherspoon an easy catch-and-run. Cousins is having the best season of his career in the turnovers category, so it’s not entirely fair to rip this one play apart, but it does speak to a couple of larger points.
The first is that Cousins has flat-out missed some reads this season. It’s been better lately, especially as Klint Kubiak has come into his own as a play-caller. But it has been a point of concern.
This week’s second, more pressing point is that Cousins has a knack for goofing up in primetime games. Of course, this isn’t new, but it is concerning if you’re a fan hoping a COVID-laden Vikings team can limp into the playoffs.
So here we are, looking at a matchup with the Bears that seems all too familiar. It’s almost a year to the day that I wrote about how the loser of this matchup would enter football purgatory, and I think that rings true today. Over the last couple of years, the Bears and Vikings have been good enough to win games but not enough to make them a legitimate threat.
Cousins isn’t the person holding the Vikings back, but he also hasn’t shown the greatness to overcome their flaws. Look around the league, and the QBs that are considered great can make up for their teams’ deficiencies. Think of what Russell Wilson has been able to do with the Seattle Seahawks despite having one of the worst offensive lines for years.
Cousins has shown plenty of flashes of greatness, but without any level of consistency, which makes matchups like this one unpredictable. While Cousins has played very well this season, his track record in primetime showdowns and season-altering games isn’t great.
The matchup between the two NFL North foes I’ll label the “Purgatory Bowl” went in the Bears’ favor in large part because, when the game was on the line, and the Vikings needed a drive, a Cousins-led offense went three-and-out. Monday night provides the Vikings with the chance to sneak back into the playoff picture. But it’s set against the backdrop of a pseudo-war that’s been waged over the quarterback in purple and gold.
So, strap in folks, it’s going to be a wild ride. Every single game has been an emotional roller coaster, and it doesn’t look like Monday will be any different.