A Cousins Gem, Squandered
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has tossed his way to 10 career games with a passer rating north of 140.0. The 10th such performance occurred inside U.S. Bank Stadium during Week 11, but the Vikings managed to exit the contest with a fateful loss. As a result, the Vikings pathway to postseason shrivels and the team’s margin for error is razor-thin.
The popular and mostly-untrue chronicle of Cousins’ relationship to the Vikings is that he must do enough as to not lose the game. His reputation with Minnesota – as unfounded as it may be – is one of a slightly enhanced game manager. After all, he has Dalvin Cook to the back of him to hand the football and a defense that is usually a fearsome bunch.
While Cook is still the lifeblood of the team, the defense has encountered sharp growing pains for much of the 2020 campaign. Game-changing defensive end Danielle Hunter was lost for the season during the preseason to an ominous neck injury. Linebacking stalwart Anthony Barr was also lost for the remainder of the year to a pectoral tear in Week 2. Run-stuffing aficionado Michael Pierce decided not to play at all because of coronavirus precautions. Therefore, the hodgepodge group of replacements, rookies, and usual suspects have played subpar as a whole – at best.
The not-stellar version of the defense was in full effect against the Dallas Cowboys. Minnesota traded haymakers with Dallas, but Mike McCarthy’s team upended the Vikings in an emotionally-charged affair.
In the last four seasons, many games have been won because Dalvin Cook prosecuted various defenses. This time, it was Cousins making the case for triumph.
And, it didn’t pan out.
Penalties Ravage Rhythm
This article will not serve as an indictment of officiating. Bad calls beset most teams, and it’s silly to pound home curious officiating when a game still hangs in the balance. The Vikings could have – and should have – toppled the Cowboys.
For a sheer total’s sake, the Vikings were absurdly upside down in penalty differential. Dallas actually had a pretty good day at the office pertaining to penalties. The so-called America’s Team was flagged four times for just 30 yards. The Vikings, on the other hand, tabulated eight penalties for 80 yards. In a vacuum, that platter of sloppiness can be overcome in a football game. But it was the untimeliness of Minnesota’s penalties that castrated any momentum – especially in the first half. This was the type of game where enthusiastic purple onlookers checked the bottom of the television for yellow penalty notifications. Several plays were negated by penalty, in particular a controversial flag on Harrison Smith for unnecessary roughness.
The Vikings hung in this Week 11 contest – despite penalties – because the Cowboys are not a good football team. A franchise such as Pittsburgh or Kansas City would have made Mike Zimmer’s team bleed to a slow death because of the barrage of yellow flags.
Big Plays Bungled
The nasty penalties could have been circumvented by Cousins’ marvelous day. They did not act as a stake through the heart. The missed big plays, however, proved insurmountable.
Special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf dialed up an extremely rare fake punt playcall in the second half of the Cowboys tilt. It was executed perfectly by 10 men. Kris Boyd – who was the recipient of the overturned fake punt reception – was flagged for an illegal shift. The successful trickery was wiped out, and the Vikings had to punt for real.
That same player later dropped a game-winning interception moments before the Cowboys took the lead for the last time. Had Boyd hauled in the sure-fire interception, the game was virtually decided in the Vikings favor. Still, Minnesota had another drive to win it. On that set of downs, rookie Justin Jefferson dropped a pass that likely would have gained 15-30 yards.
Any or all of these plays — had they been converted — should have locked in a victory. Cousins’ impressive showing would have been exalted. Instead, it will be forgotten on the ash heap of losses that are rapidly undercutting the 2020 season.
A Tiny Bit of Defense was Necessary
Minnesota’s defense following the bye week was starting to coagulate. The rookies were developing (and, of course, still are), Eric Wilson was making fans forget about Anthony Barr, and some front-four pressure was peeking through.
Most of those improvements regressed in Week 11. Minnesota allowed 31 points to the Cowboys and Andy Dalton – a man who recently recovered from a concussion-coronavirus sandwich. RB2 Tony Pollard ushered in a momentous paradigm shift for Dallas when he galloped for a 42-yard touchdown. It was not a dagger, but it was a teaser-trailer for the Vikings impending doom.
Any time a quarterback tosses three or more touchdown passes to no interceptions bundled with 314 passing yards, his team should win the football game. It’s automatic, no-brainer, money in the bank, elementary – pick your adjective.
But this enigmatic 2020 Vikings team disagreed.