Kirk Cousins has always been an easy target. Maybe it’s his penchant for interceptions. Or his gif-inspiring post-match celebrations. Perhaps it’s the then-record $84 million over three years the Minnesota Vikings handed him in 2018.
There’s still an absence of titles on his CV, but it’s time to give Cousins some props. He’s playing the best football of his career and has the Vikings on a three-game winning streak and suddenly back in the thick of the playoff race in the NFC.
Cousins threw the game-winning touchdown to beat the Chicago Bears 19-13 on Monday Night Football in Week 10. In the process, he snapped two unwanted streaks:
ICMI, Kirk Cousins picked up his first career win on Monday Night Football and his first win against the Bears as a member of the Vikings.
Cousins was 0-9 previously on Monday Night Football, the longest losing streak by any starter in MNF history. pic.twitter.com/z1MLtj7SXx
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 17, 2020
Cousins connected with Adam Thielen to seal the elusive victory. It was their second scoring connection on the night and proof Cousins hasn’t been harmed by the decision to trade Diggs to the Buffalo Bills during the offseason.
Diggs is one of the most explosive wide receivers in the league, but he never felt he was getting the ball enough in Minnesota. Losing his field-stretching speed and precision route-running should’ve meant disaster for the Vikings’ passing game.
Instead, Cousins has never looked better. He and the Vikings were 1-5 after their bye week, but since then, Cousins has thrown six touchdowns compared to just one interception.
The lone INT happened in The Windy City when the ball bounced off Thielen into the grateful mitts of Khalil Mack. Cousins would have self-destructed spectacularly in previous years, but he’s cooler under fire in 2020.
Cousins’ greater efficiency owes a lot to the efforts of running back Dalvin Cook. The NFL’s rushing leader added 96 tough yards to his tally on Monday, but the arm of Cousins made the decisive plays with the score deadlocked at 13-13.
It was the signature play of a near-flawless performance on football’s money down:
Kirk Cousins on 3rd down vs. Chicago
▪️ 149 yards
▪️ 2 TDs pic.twitter.com/86ujKTgpn1
— PFF (@PFF) November 17, 2020
Evert team wants a quarterback who will deliver in clutch moments. Cousins did it against a formidable Bears defense.
He’s making plays when it counts and also protecting the football. Aside from cutting down the interceptions, Cousins has posted ratings of 138.1, 141.7, and 100.7 in his last three starts, all wins.
One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Cousins’ game is the way he spreads the ball around. It’s what distinguished him from Robert Griffin III in Washington.
RG3‘s career went into decline after a freak knee injury in 2012 ruined his chances of becoming a franchise quarterback. It was Cousins, the man drafted 100 picks after Griffin, who averted catastrophe for the Burgundy and Gold.
He guided Washington to the playoffs in 2015 and another winning record a year later, before earning a Pro Bowl nod in 2017. One of his first auditions to supplant RG3 came in Week 3 of the 2014 season, on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Washington lost 37-34, but Cousins caught the eye by throwing for 427 yards and three touchdowns. He connected with seven different receivers and showed an ability to read coverage and work through his progressions Griffin simply didn’t possess.
Cousins has maintained his generosity and hit eight different receivers in Chicago. Jefferson was the star, making eight catches for 135 yards in a breakout performance. He’s building the kind of rapport with Cousins Diggs rarely managed.
Thielen’s two touchdown grabs, the first a spectacular, one-handed catch in the opening quarter, took his tally to nine this season. It’s already a career-high for the capable veteran.
Cousins is starting to resemble something like a deluxe game-manager. He’s playing within the confines of Gary Kubiak‘s Cook-centric offense.
Cousins is also taking fewer risks because he knows the Vikings’ defense can still blank opponents. Minnesota’s D’ feasted on Nick Foles and a drab Bears offense with a fiendish mix of sophisticated pressure and disguised coverage.
Head coach Mike Zimmer is one of the shrewdest defensive minds in the game, but he knows his team will ultimately go as far as Cousins can take it. The quarterback has been doing his bit in crucial moments this season.
Cousins leads the NFL in fourth-quarter passer rating (137.2) and trails only Mahomes and Watson with seven fourth-quarter TDs. Some of this is an illusion, because he's cleaned up in garbage time of two losses vs. GB, ATL, but he's also played very well in 4th Q of close games.
— Andrew Krammer (@Andrew_Krammer) November 17, 2020
Cousins still has a ways to go to get Minnesota back into the playoffs, but you’d be foolish to write him off in this form. He proved a lot of doubters wrong in Chicago, but Cousins will still have his detractors.
It’s been that way his whole career.