EAGAN, Minn. – Three times this season, the Minnesota Vikings have played to a national TV audience in one of the NFL’s standalone primetime games. Sunday night’s 25-20 loss at Chicago disappointed Minnesota, which has lost each of the games this season.
Nationally, questions followed about the Vikings’ viability as a playoff contender. Minnesota fell 1.5 games back of the Bears in the NFC North.
For quarterback Kirk Cousins, the loss allowed the naysayers to bring up his career record in primetime and the criticisms of the three-year, $84 million contract he signed to be the Vikings’ long-sought franchise quarterback.
“For me, to answer that, I’d have to like be reading it and knowing about it,” Cousins said Wednesday when asked how his contract has brought added scrutiny. “I really don’t know what’s being said or what’s being scrutinized. I honestly can’t tell you. I know that as an NFL quarterback who’s playing, you’re going to get scrutinized.
“I was making league minimum my fourth year in Washington, and I was pretty scrutinized that year, too. So, I think it goes without saying that when you’re an NFL quarterback, you’re going to be judged and evaluated inside the building and outside the building, and you understand that’s what you signed up for, and that’s certainly part of the job.”
Minnesota’s defense, which has recovered significantly since, faced similar questions after the Los Angeles Rams put up 556 yards in a 38-31 home win against the Vikings in Week 4.
Then there was the playoff rematch from last season, hyped as the follow-up to the “Minneapolis Miracle,” in which the New Orleans Saints won 30-20 in Minnesota in Week 8.
“I love it,” running back Latavius Murray said about the Vikings facing another primetime game this Sunday at home against division rival Green Bay. “It’s primetime. Everyone’s watching. Usually when you have a primetime game, it’s for a reason. We need to win this one though.”
Asked to elaborate on the belief it’s a must-win, Murray added: “For one, it’s the next game. But obviously these primetime games, we haven’t done well in any of them. So, we need to put on a good show.”
A fourth primetime loss would be damaging both in public opinion and Minnesota’s playoff hopes. The Vikings are 5-4-1 and the Packers are 4-5-1 after their early-season tie.
Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer even went so far as to ask if there is something to the primetime losses and the preparation for the game.
“Talked to the coaches about it the other day and Terence (Newman) was in the room; do guys approach these games differently,” Zimmer inquired. “And, really, not so much.”
Cousins echoed the sentiment later when he met with the media on Wednesday. But the quarterback enters Sunday night’s game with a 4-12 record in primetime games.
Zimmer couldn’t put his finger on the reason for those results, either.
“I honestly don’t know,” Zimmer said. “I guess we’re playing good teams, might be the real factor.”
The 4-12 record is glaring. But a look at the stats shows Cousins has completed 67.92 percent of his passes for 7.79 yards per attempt, 31 touchdowns to 16 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 97.8 in primetime games.
The completion percentage, yards per attempt and quarterback ratings are all higher than Cousins’ career averages.
“I think we'd have to go back through all the primetime games I've played and talk through them because every game is different,” Cousins said. “The previous team I was on, we won last year on Thanksgiving night, and I don't think I played all that well and we won, so it gets a little bit convoluted when you try to look at a stat and pair it with a player. It becomes maybe a bigger, more complicated picture than just a win-loss record and trying to judge performance.”
This year, Cousins was 36-of-50 passing for 422 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in the loss at Los Angeles. He was 31 of 41 for 359 yards passing and two touchdowns against New Orleans, but threw a damaging interception returned for a touchdown in the loss.
Last week against Chicago, Cousins had, perhaps, his worst outing of the year with a season-low 76.5 quarterback rating. He was 30-of-46 passing for 262 yards. He threw two touchdown and two interceptions, including another returned for a touchdown.
While Zimmer maintained that miscommunication contributed to the interceptions, Cousins again took the full blame on Wednesday for the miscues.
Cousins has four of his seven interceptions this season over the past three games.
“You need to learn from them,” Cousins said. “You need to talk about them, be coached and hear your coach’s thoughts. And talk to your teammates about it, take ownership for it, and then move on with that gained experience. That’s the way it is with every game and with every setback or failure you have. This past week is no different. I’d like to think I’ll be a better quarterback come this Sunday and the rest of the season.”
Conversely, Cousins might have had his best performance of the season in the first meeting against the Packers. He was 35-of-48 passing for four touchdowns and one interception. The 118.7 quarterback rating was a season-high and he orchestrated a fourth-quarter comeback with three touchdown passes in the quarter.
“I do think we got aggressive in the fourth quarter and overtime of that game, and it certainly worked in that game,” Cousins said. “We moved the football. But the Packers are going to watch that same film, and I’m sure they’re going to have some adjustments too to their plan.”
Brian can be found on Twitter at @MNBrianHall. See all of the Vikings’ coverage at footballmaven.io/vikings