- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2021

BALTIMOREKirk Cousins, still in uniform, silently walked into the visitors’ locker room in the bowels of M&T Bank Stadium, following a trove of teammates in front of him. The Minnesota Vikings quarterback did not utter a word and his eyes barely glanced up from the path ahead. 

After all, there wasn’t much to say in the immediate moments following a 34-31 overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens — even if this was the type of defeat that Cousins has suffered time and time again. 

“It’s never any one thing,” Cousins said from a lectern.

Cousins wasn’t directly responsible for Sunday’s loss to the Ravens, with the Vikings‘ defense giving up 500 yards to fall to 3-5 on the season. But he wasn’t completely absent of blame, either. The Vikings squandered a key opportunity in overtime when the offense went three-and-out, with Cousins throwing an incompletion on third and 9. 

Four seasons into the Cousins’ era with the Vikings, the conversation around the quarterback’s career hasn’t really changed since Cousins left Washington as a free agent in 2018. The former Redskins starter is still just as polarizing — only now it’s Minnesota’s fans, not Washington’s, that get to debate whether the quarterback is to blame for his team’s losing record, or if it’s the circumstances around him.

Against the Ravens, Cousins completed 17 of 28 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns. The 33-year-old led an impressive game-tying touchdown drive with just over a minute left in regulation, but the Vikings ultimately blew a lead for the second straight week.  

In Baltimore, Minnesota led by as many as 14.

“We didn’t do enough offensively,” Cousins said. “Too many negative plays. Too many three-and-outs. Too many second and longs. Too many third and longs.”

It’s uncanny how much of the narrative has hardly changed, too. Here was a sample of headlines about Cousins over the past week: “Vikings coach Mike Zimmer needs Kirk Cousins and that $150 million arm to save a season,” “Colin Cowherd goes off on Kirk Cousins” and “Kirk Cousins and the $45 million question.”

Swap out the names and dollar figures and any of those articles likely could have been written any time between 2015 to 2017, the years when Cousins was Washington’s full-time starter. But Cousins has now been “The Guy” in Minnesota longer than holding the same role in Washington. Cousins, of course, was a part-time starter, mostly a backup, over the first three years of his career. 

In Minnesota, Cousins has been unable to change the perception that, while he‘s capable of gaudy stats, in the end, he‘s not a winner.

When it seemed like the narrative might finally start to change — after Cousins won a playoff game during the 2019 season — the quarterback followed up with a 7-9 record in 2020. The critics, if they ever left, returned. 

Cousins rejects the idea that wins are a quarterback stat. And what makes the signal-caller fascinating to discuss is that there are legitimate reasons he shouldn’t be to blame for his team’s struggles. It’s not so black-and-white. 

Take Zimmer, Minnesota’s coach. In his eighth season with the Vikings, Zimmer finds himself on the hot seat due to a conservative approach and old-fashioned preference for running the ball. Likewise, Vikings offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak, the son of former Texans and Broncos coach Gary Kubiak, has come under scrutiny for his play-calling. 

Determined to get star running back Dalvin Cook more involved in the offense, the Vikings gave the two-time Pro Bowler 17 carries against Baltimore and Cook was productive with 110 yards. But that production was heavily skewed by gains of 66 and 24: Cook gained just 20 yards on his 15 other attempts. 

Zimmer, too, said he was “disappointed” in the series following Barr’s interception in overtime. Despite getting the ball back at their own 38, the Vikings gained just one yard and punted.

“You hope when you do (create a turnover), you get some momentum going,” Zimmer said. “Typically, you go down and score and we didn’t.”

Now, the frustration appears to be mounting. As Zimmer’s press conference concluded, the coach walked off and yelled to no one in particular, “Anything on nepotism yet?” It appears Zimmer was unhappy with a week-old Star Tribune column that blamed Zimmer for hiring Kubiak and Zimmer’s son, Adam, as co-defensive coordinator.

Cousins, in a way, is no stranger to nepotism controversies. When Cousins was a backup in Washington, former coach Mike Shanahan faced the same criticism for naming son Kyle the offensive coordinator. This, of course, was before Kyle was seen as one of the league’s brightest innovators. 

But, unlike then, Cousins is now a full-time starter. 

That’s changed, at least. 

“We have not done that enough at this point,” Cousins said.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect Dalvin Cook’s correct yardage on his 15 other attempts.  

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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