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No Thielen. Limited Dalvin. Vintage Cousins.

Kirk Cousins was the maestro of the best Minnesota Vikings fourth-quarter performance in recent memory during Week 12. Other games that emulate Sunday’s prosperity were the Vikings 2019 comeback over the Denver Broncos or the overtime theatrics that Minnesota hung on New Orleans during last year’s playoffs. Surprise, surprise – Kirk Cousins was the torchbearer in those contests, too. A pattern is developing that can only be ignored if one is in the business of finding reasons to discount Cousins. They’re out there.

Minnesota entered the third quarter against the Carolina Panthers with a teensy three-point lead. In mere seconds, that lead was gutted when rookie safety Jeremy Chinn notched back-to-back defensive touchdowns from fumbles by Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook. This was the rock-bottom for Week 12. After that, Cousins and the Vikings blazed a path to victory, although the journey was topsy-turvy and riddled with mixed emotions for those watching at home. The Vikings lost the game on about three separate occasions, and turnovers were the primary culprit. The dagger was particularly irremovable when WR/PR Chad Beebe muffed a late fourth-quarter punt return. Possession was gifted to Panthers, and a fork was inserted into the Vikings playoff aspirations. Carolina then bungled the time management of the ensuing drive, Teddy Bridgewater missed a game-solidifying touchdown pass to D.J. Moore, and the Vikings capitalized. Beebe, who was embattled for about 10 minutes, exited the facility as a hero when he hauled in Cousins’ game-winning strike.

Pundits were rather kind to Cousins following the contest. “This is what they pay him for” was the sentiment while Minnesota upped its playoff probability to about 30%. The Vikings – once owners of a 1-5 record – are now one game away from a .500 standing in the NFC.

Key players missed the Week 12 contest. Adam Thielen – Cousins’s favorite target – was out for coronavirus reasons. Irv Smith Jr. is still hobbled by groin and back maladies. Rookie guard Ezra Cleveland missed another game. And, Dalvin Cook was a non-factor for most of the second half because of injury.

Versus Carolina, though, Kirk Cousins was in familiar territory.

This is What Cousins Did in WAS

Cousins is chided for not dragging the Washington Football Team to playoff wins. The knock on the 32-year-old is that he is a .500 quarterback. But context of his tenure in Washington is rarely vivified. His assignment as starter formally began at the start of the 2015 season. Cousins bested incumbent Robert Griffin III during the preseason and would be the leader of the Football Team for three consecutive years.

While starting in Washington, this mishmash of running backs accompanied Cousins: Matt Jones, Samaje Perine, Chris Thompson, Alfred Morris, and Robert Kelley. That was the best stable that Washington could dig up for those three years. Oofta.

Therefore, when Dalvin Cook appeared seriously hurt against Carolina, Cousins did not panic. Why would he? He’s done this dance before in the nation’s capital. Combine Adam Thielen and Irv Smith Jr.’s absence with Cook’s sidelining, and Cousins felt right at home.

From 2015 to 2017, Cousins’ record as a starter was 24-23-1 (.510). His team ranked 24th in points allowed, 27th in yards per rushing attempt, 28th in rushing yards allowed, and 28th in rushing yards gained during those three campaigns. Instead of taking lighter fluid to his resume, he should be commended for keeping them slightly above .500. Football is a team sport, after all.

Ball Distribution vs. CAR

Optimism was bleak after Cook fumbled and Chinn scored last weekend. The Vikings faced an 11-point deficit and were without their RB1, WR1, TE1, RG1, DE1, DT1, and SLB. The postseason hung in the balance. Cousins turned to an old trick – ball distribution.

Four Vikings pass-catchers grabbed at least seven catches for at least 60 yards: Chad Beebe (7rec, 63yds), Justin Jefferson (7rec, 70yds), Bisi Johnson (7rec, 74yds), and Kyle Rudolph (7rec, 68yds). Only one other team has pulled off this feat of four pass-catchers with at least 7 receptions and 60+ yards in a single game — the 2012 New Orleans Saints. Cousins’ Vikings became the second team in NFL history to do so.

This was the gig in Washington – getting the ball to any wide receiver, running back, or tight end that would get open. Absent an established RB1, it was all Cousins could do to flirt with victory. Check out the 2017 season as evidence. Jamison Crowder, Ryan Grant, Vernon Davis, Chris Thompson, and Josh Doctson led the team in receptions.

Cousins looking over the faces of Justin Jefferson, Chad Beebe, Bisi Johnson, Tajae Sharpe, and Kyle Rudolph after Cook’s injury was more teleportation to 2017 that it was a 2020 doomsday situation.

Win Half the Time with Bare Bones

Ideally, Cook will be back and ready to play for Week 13. He creates a friendly work environment for Cousins and the Vikings on the whole.

But what can be reasonably expected from Cousins if Cook and/or Thielen is out?

If Cook, Thielen, Smith Jr. all missed games going forward, one can expect Cousins to propel the team to victories at least 50% of the time. The 2020 Vikings defense isn’t far away from the 2015-2017 Washington Football Team in terms of defensive productivity.

How can the .500 prognostication be voiced in good faith? Because Cousins did it every Sunday for three damn years in Landover, Maryland.

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Dustin Baker

Writer. Host of Bleav in Vikings Podcast w/B-Mac & Baker.

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