It was Jan. 5, 2020.
The Minnesota Vikings were in New Orleans on a Sunday afternoon to battle the Saints in the wild card round of the NFL Playoffs. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins came into the game 0-1 in the playoffs and had a reputation for shrinking in big moments. The Vikings were huge underdogs as the Saints looked to get revenge for the “Minneapolis Miracle.”
However, the Vikings came away with the win. Cousins played a solid game as running back Dalvin Cook ran through the Saints defense for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Overtime gave Cousins the opportunity to deliver for his team and earn his $84 million contract. He launched a perfectly-placed pass to Adam Thielen that landed right in his arms to set up the Vikings at the two-yard line. On third and goal, Cousins hit tight end Kyle Rudolph on a lob pass in the endzone to give the Vikings the 26-20 victory.
Alas, those who think Cousins is overrated got some ammunition the next week as the Vikings were dominated 27-10 by the San Francisco 49ers. Cousins only threw 172 yards with a pick and was sacked six times.
Despite this, I think Cousins has proven to be a franchise-caliber quarterback. I define a franchise quarterback as someone who can deliver in big moments combined with impressive statistics. Cousins falls under both definitions.
Cousins had the weight of the world on his shoulders in New Orleans. The only other time Cousins started a postseason game was in 2015 as the quarterback of the Washington Redskins. Cousins had a solid game with 329 yards passing to go along with one rush and one pass touchdown. It wasn’t enough as the Green Bay Packers won 35-18.
A few years later, he delivered with a touchdown drive in overtime on the road in the postseason at one of the loudest stadiums in the entire NFL. He did not let the Saints receive the ball in overtime and led the Vikings to an unexpected playoff win. While the case can be made he was terrible against San Francisco, most of the blame should not fall on him. The 49ers kept the ball nearly twice as much as the Vikings and when the Vikings had the ball, the Vikings’ offensive line was leaky. They allowed the dominant 49ers’ defensive line to tee off on Cousins and shut down Cook. Also, it isn’t Cousins’ fault special teams weapon Marcus Sherels muffed an easy punt.
Cousins also came up clutch last season in several huge moments. He led the Vikings back from a 20-0 deficit against the Denver Broncos, pushing the team to an 8-3 record. He e had a great performance at Dallas on Sunday Night Football, picking up a huge 28-24 victory for Minnesota.
Another case that can be made is Cousins is 0-9 on Monday Night Football, the worst record in MNF history. The two losses last season were to the Seattle Seahawks and the Packers. The Seahawks loss was mostly due to cornerback Xavier Rhodes constantly getting torched and Cousins having to keep scoring. Against the Packers, Cousins had to deal with, again, a porous offensive line without his running back and top receiver. Football is a team game and a closer look shows that you cannot always blame the quarterback even though many go that route.
But I thought a franchise quarterback was supposed to find success no matter how bad the roster is around him?
Well, despite a few bad games here and there, he mostly delivers. In 2015, he took over for Robert Griffin III as the full-time starter in Washington. From 2015-18, Cousins threw for at least 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns. Those are solid numbers on top of winning at least seven games each season. While neither sound impressive, he had to fight through many team issues to get wins.
In 2015, he led the Redskins to a division title despite the team’s 28th ranked defense. While Cousins had struggles in the clutch during 2016, he led the Redskins to a winning record with 4,917 yards passing despite the 28th ranked defense once again. After a disappointing 2017 tenure with a 7-9 record, Cousins left Washington to journey north to Minnesota. He threw 30 touchdown passes in 2018 but he missed the playoffs with a talented team. While a deeper look reveals it wasn’t all his fault, he deserved some of the blame.
In 2019, he not only delivered in big moments finally, but he had his most efficient season as a passer. Despite only 3,603 passing yards, he threw only six interceptions and achieved his career-high in passer rating at 107.4. This was the fourth-best in the league behind Ryan Tannehill, Drew Brees and NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. Jackson was the only one of the three who played as many games as Cousins did.
He was efficient last season as a franchise quarterback. He finally backed up his stats with big-time plays in big-time moments. He finally justified his big contract and proved he is a franchise quarterback in the NFL. Let us see if he and the Vikings can work together and push past the divisional playoff round next season.