I’ve been a fan of Kirk Cousins since his days at Michigan State and a big fan since the Washington Redskins drafted him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, ostensibly to back up Robert Griffin III, their number one pick that year. I say ostensibly because there’s reason to believe that Washington’s coach, Mike Shanahan, envisaged Cousins, not Griffin, as his long term starter.
Doubting Griffin’s ability to run a traditional pro offense, Shanahan and his son Kyle designed a special scheme to take advantage of RG’s strengths. That offense made a star of Griffin in his rookie season. However, Griffin wanted to run a traditional offense and Daniel Snyder, the owner, forced that offense on the Shanahans.
It wasn’t long before Griffin was out — along with the Shanahans — and Cousins was in.
Cousins played well for the Redskins — well enough to earn a record breaking contract with the Minnesota Vikings when he became a free agent. However, Cousins developed a reputation for being unable to deliver in big games.
The reputation, if not completely unfair, was certainly overblown. Cousins played well in some big games and not so well in others. And it’s important to remember that his supporting cast in Washington was generally mediocre.
With Cousins at quarterback, the Redskins couldn’t win on Monday night. Without him, they still can’t. But Monday night games aren’t necessarily big games. Indeed, most Monday night games aren’t big (there are few big games in the first ten weeks of the season) and most big games don’t occur on Monday night.
In sum, it’s fair to say that, as a Redskin, Cousins was inconsistent in big games. It’s unfair to say that he was consistently mediocre or poor in them.
I can’t speak with any authority about Cousins’s two years with the Vikings. The numbers say he performed pretty well in 2018 and very well in 2019. His record as a starter in the regular season is 18-12-1.
However, the numbers also say that he performed poorly in the team’s big games against Green Bay, the Vikings’ primary rival. And Cousins continued to lose on Monday night.
Yesterday, Cousins played his biggest game as a Viking — a playoff game against the heavily favored New Orleans Saints. Cousins had a strong outing, better than his New Orleans counterpart, future Hall of Famer Drew Brees.
Behind Cousins, the Vikings converted on 10 of 17 third down plays. Late in the game, these were often “third and longs” because the Vikings kept handing the ball to star running back Dalvin Cook on first and second down, and the Saints, after being tormented by Cook in the first half, were now stuffing him.
As a result of this poor play selection by the coaching staff, the Vikings scored only seven points in the second half, and none in the fourth quarter. Consequently, the Saints rallied from 10 points down to send the game into overtime.
In overtime, the most important five minutes of his career, Cousins threw the ball five times. He completed four passes for 62 yards. One of them was a perfectly thrown bomb to Adam Thielen that went for 43 yards, all the way to the New Orleans two yard line.
Two runs by Cook netted minus one yard. This left Cousins with third and goal from the three yard line.
That’s when Cousins connected with Kyle Rudolph on a well thrown fade route in the end zone. Game over.
Cousins is now 1-1 in the playoffs — a loss to Green Bay (naturally) as a Redskin and yesterday’s win over New Orleans. The Redskins were slight favorites in the Green Bay game and the Vikings were clear underdogs against the Saints.
Yesterday’s performance may quiet those who say Cousins can’t win the big game. . .until the next time his team loses a big game and he does not excel.