Cousins doubters often tout his inability to win when it matters most. But his final drive in overtime didn’t fit the script.
Completing 4 of 5 passes for 63 yards, capped by a walk-off touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph, Cousins — with the help of a controversial no-call — upended future Hall of Famer Drew Brees in one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, leaving his skeptics scratching their heads.
It was Cousins’ first playoff win in his eight-year career and led to a contract extension that extended his future with the franchise. One win may not silence his critics or cement any legacy, but it did spur a closer look at his time in the spotlight.
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Proven in Prime Time
Cousins has actually played better in prime time despite a 0-9 record on Monday Night Football. This mark has largely been decided on his supporting casts’ performance and strength of schedule.
According to Pro Football Focus’ in-depth dive on Cousins’ prime time play:
“No team has been worse at rushing the football in prime time than Kirk Cousins’ teams (the Redskins from 2015-16 and the Vikings since 2018). Facing tougher defenses in prime time was also a factor.
Cousins doesn’t transcend the game like Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson, but he’s proven reliable as a game manager, which is exactly what the franchise wants him to be and has built a strong run game to support.
And while last year against New Orleans was just one game, it was a well-needed notch in the quarterback’s belt that he’s already applied to moving his “next mountain.”
“Now you want to win another playoff game,” Cousins told the Star Tribune. “Now you want to get to the Super Bowl, and you want to win a world championship. You just keep chasing the next mountain. There will always be people who are going to criticize you.”
What If It Was Called A Push-Off?
Plenty was on the line approaching the New Orleans game. Cousins’ future was one of them, but arguably the direction of the entire franchise may have taken a shift with a loss.
Coach Mike Zimmer’s playoff record was 1-3 in his six years with the team, and with trade rumors swirling that the Dallas Cowboys were eyeing Zimmer to take over as head coach, the stakes surely grew.
Had Rudolph been called for offensive pass interference, it would have backed the Vikings up to 3rd and 14. Play-action wouldn’t be an option and covering Cook would largely be a none-factor. One more shot to the end zone could have resulted in a turnover, touchdown or incompletion — the latter and the Vikings would turn to convert a 31-yard field goal and relinquish control the Saints.
Betting against a patented Brees game-winning drive would not bode well, but the Vikings had smothered the Saints running game — holding Alvin Kamara and former Viking Latavius Murray to 21 rushing yards each — and made New Orleans one dimensional, converting on just 4 of 11 third downs. Brees accounted for two turnovers and threw 208 yards, his lowest total since 2013.
The Vikings defense was humming and had all the momentum to close the game. Whether they would have or not is left in the past, but in 2020, Cousins will need to be just as solid as the defense moves on from five starters.
Follow Trevor Squire on Twitter: @trevordsquire