Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press
There is no other way to say this, and you may want to make sure the kids can’t read it. It’s not pretty. But it is true. It’s a fact.
This was a massive, stinking, terrible choke job by the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings went to the NFC championship last year. After losing to the Bears 24-10 on Sunday, they’re not even going to the playoffs this year.
Not only that, but in a game where their playoff lives were on the line, the Vikings played timid. The Bears had little to play for, but they were vicious and hungry. It should have been the other way around.
In a way, it’s what we should have expected. Because the choke job wasn’t just in the loss that closed the season. It was in the offseason signing that came to define it.
There are plenty of things that changed for the Vikings between that title game appearance and this no-show, but maybe none is bigger than the guy who played quarterback in purple Sunday.
There’s a reason people like me have been critical all year of Vikings QB Kirk Cousins—and of the Vikings’ decision to sign him for $84 million in guaranteed money during the offseason. It’s because the Cousins we saw Sunday is the one we saw for six long seasons in Washington.
He is a mechanically sound quarterback. He has some good moments and has put up some good stats. But when it’s time for Cousins to produce in big spots, he comes up small. It happens in almost every game. It happens all the time.
The Vikings brought in Cousins to push them over the top. Not only didn’t that happen, but they instead regressed. They became just another Cousins disappointment.
It’s unfair, maybe. Just like watching this clip of Cousins wincing as the Bears pass rush approaches and judging him on it might be unfair.
Kirk Cousins wincing before the Bears D even touches him is what gets me up in the morning. Wince Kirk wince!!! https://t.co/eHaM58wldD
Hell, I’d curl up into downward dog if Khalil Mack were coming after me. But moments like this are all part of the Kirk Cousins Experience.
No, the loss isn’t all on Cousins, but much of it is, because this is what he does. This season, Cousins and the Vikings were 1-6 against teams with winning records. For his career, Cousins is 5-25 against teams with winning records. Cousins’ losing in a big spot isn’t a bug; it’s a feature.
Cousins threw for 132 yards and one touchdown Sunday. He missed at least half a dozen easy throws. He panicked under pressure, and while that’s also not all on him (Minnesota’s offensive line isn’t good), he has enough talent around him that he should be able to do better.
Instead, it was typical Cousins. The Bears started the day with an outside chance to overtake the Rams for the No. 2 seed, but it was easy to see that Chicago wasn’t playing for that. The Bears came out incredibly aggressive because it’s what the Bears do and why they’re so good. They lack mercy. They don’t care about playoff seedings or scenarios or even whom they are playing. They simply want to kick your ass. And no one better to kick around than Cousins.
This was one of the criticisms teams had of Cousins when they were looking to sign him as a free agent. They didn’t think he carried his teams the way a high-priced franchise quarterback is supposed to. One team executive called him “soft” to me.
Is that true? I don’t know, but this is a big-boy sport where $84 million is supposed to buy you more than a seat on the couch at the crib in front of the telly for the playoffs.
Just before halftime, Cousins and his wide receiver, Adam Thielen, got into a heated discussion on the sideline.
It looks like (based on amateur lip reading) Cousins says, “I don’t have 10 seconds”—presumably because Cousins felt he didn’t have enough time for Thielen to run deeper and more complex routes.
Then, Thielen seems to say, “Just throw the ball.”
A lot went wrong for the Vikings this season, and the self-examination will be extensive. But the deep look has to start with how they gave $84 million to a quarterback who can’t seem to do something that basic to his job—just throw the ball—when it matters most.