Kirk Cousins Won a Playoff Game. Now What?

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Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins exorcised demons in New Orleans last January. The national narrative proclaimed Cousins was not suited for “big games,” and Minnesota hence waltzed into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as eight-point underdogs.

Cousins and the Vikings left the bulbous building with a 26-20 triumph.

For the second time in three seasons, Minnesota ended the Saints Super Bowl aspirations via last-second, dramatic playmaking. This time it was Kirk Cousins, not Case Keenum, who was the signal-caller that supplied the theatrics. It was Cousins’ first postseason win and the first time he had sniffed the playoffs since a 2015 defeat to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

Before joining the Vikings, Cousins was a full-time starter for the Washington Football Team in three seasons. Washington ranked 24th in points allowed, 27th in rush yards per attempt, 28th in total yards allowed, and 28th in offensive rushing yards during the three campaigns in which Cousins was the team’s quarterback.

Strangely, Kirk Cousins – not the surrounding faces – was labeled as subpar and incapable of leading a team to stardom. So, when Cousins daggered the Saints eight months ago, the needle moved just a bit as to the reputation and legitimacy of Cousins. Perhaps the fourth-best passer rating in the NFL that he showcased in 2019 was not a façade. 

But now what? Was his performance lightning in a bottle? Is killer Kirk the new normal?

These are the four possible next steps for the 32-year-old’s career.

The Jay Cutler Path

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Former Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was pretty good. That’s it – he was pretty good.

Cutler won one playoff game in 12 seasons as a player in the NFL. That occurred in 2010 with Chicago when the Bears shellacked the Seattle Seahawks 35-18 in the 2010 NFC Divisional Round playoff game. This victory was the quintessential definition of “bittersweet” because Cutler was hurt the following week in the NFC Championship versus the rival Packers. Green Bay would win the Super Bowl two weeks later.

The memories of Jay Cutler’s career performance are remember by fans and pundits as positive, for the most part. He was a decent quarterback that created stability for the Bears ever-changing quarterback room. Cutler wound up playing the most games at the Bears quarterback position since the legendary George Blanda of the 1950s.

As for Kirk Cousins, if the recent playoff victory at New Orleans was his magnum opus, his career will eerily mirror that of Cutler. He will be reminisced as the Washington-turned-Minnesota quarterback that wasn’t bad at all but was never great. 

The Warren Moon Path

As the Vikings alumnus on the list, Warren Moon won three playoffs games during his career. Moon competed in 17 seasons with four franchises, aerially lit up the field in the majority of seasons that he played, and retired with a superlative connotation to his name.

It is unlikely that Kirk Cousins will ever be allowed to pioneer a run-and-shoot offense as was granted to Moon. Yet, on the whole, NFL teams pass the football substantially more in 2020 that the days of Warren Moon. Should Cousins trudge the path of Warren Moon in terms of longevity, that would plop Cousins into the year 2028 (or age 40) for retirement. 

The Warren Moon Method would grant Cousins approximately two more playoff wins and give his team a sense of confidence heading into each season. That’s what Warren Moon provided for the Houston Oilers and Vikings. 

In this screenplay, Cousins sadly would never reach a Super Bowl but would leave the game with gobs of passing-statisticaccolades to his name. 

The Matt Ryan Path

Defensive backs aren’t known for their soft hands, but Iloka makes the tough catch look easy, hauling in the Matt Ryan INT on a poorly thrown pass.

Things are heating up – sign Kirk Daniel Cousins up for an MVP award and a championship meltdown in February.

In fairness to Matt Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons signal-caller is still active in the NFL and could reasonably win a Super Bowl if the stars aligned accordingly.

Try this on for size: Kirk Cousins has started 88 career games. Through 88 contests, Kirk Cousins has thrown for 23,613 passing yards, 151 touchdowns, and 67 interceptions. In Ryan’s first 88 games, he accrued 21,825 passing yards, 145 touchdowns, and 72 interceptions.

Before one shouts, “Kirk Cousins is no Matt Ryan,” examine at the raw numbers. The primary difference between the men is that Ryan was employed by a mostly competent franchise whereas the Washington Football Team has fostered one of futility and alleged misogyny.

All in all, emulating Matt Ryan would shell out esteemed individual awards for Cousins and a shot at getting oh-so-close to the Promised Land.

The Drew Brees Path

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The parallels between Drew Brees and Kirk Cousins are downright spooky.

Once upon a time, Drew Brees was a damn good quarterback that could not fully get the job done. But the thing is – nobody cares or even remembers that now. Brees thrust himself over the hump in 2009 when the Saints toppled the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. All past transgressions were nullified because that is what winning a championship does for a sports player.  

Prior to that zenith, Drew Brees was a 30-year-old quarterback that played for two separate franchises and owned a 1-2 playoff record. Sound familiar? It should.

Kirk Cousins is a 32-year-old quarterback that has played for two separate franchises and owns a 1-2 playoff record – at this very moment. 

The Drew Brees Path is not for everybody. It takes gumption, an outstanding supporting cast, and some (nefarious?) luck to win a Super Bowl. In the coming seasons, Kirk Cousins will determine if these stipulations accompany his career as they did Brees

Since Brees entered the NFL some 20 years ago, passing has become more prevalent. That is undeniable. However, through 88 career starts, Cousins has thrown 21 more touchdowns passes Brees in his first 88 starts.

The hypothesis that Brees and Cousins are gridiron bedfellows will be dismissed by most casual fans. And that is because Brees, over a decade ago, hoisted a Lombardi trophy. But in 2008, he was just another quarterback that could not get the job done. 

Is Kirk Cousins a Cutler, Moon, Ryan, or Brees? The next several seasons will issue a verdict.