'Great opportunity' awaits Kirk Cousins Monday night against Packers

Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates a 27-23 win against the Denver Broncos at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 17, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. ((Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images))

Kirk Cousins knows the narrative. He’s the $84 million man leading the Minnesota Vikings offense, yet the numbers don’t lie when it comes to playing under the bright lights on the national stage.

For his career has a starting quarterback, he has yet to win on Monday Night Football. He’s 0-8, including a 37-30 loss at Seattle earlier this season after the team’s bye week. He’s a below .500 quarterback for his career against teams with above .500 records.

It’s not always on him, but as the quarterback and one of the faces of the franchise, Cousins has to face the criticism when the Vikings lose or don’t play up to their capability. He has a chance, and a big one at that, to change that narrative Monday night against the Green Bay Packers.

Against one of their biggest rivals, the Vikings can clinch a spot in the NFC Playoffs with a win in front of their home crowd in the national spotlight.

“It is what it is, you can’t change the past but you certainly have a great opportunity Monday night,” Cousins said Wednesday.

They could even clinch a spot in the playoffs before they take the field Monday night. The Vikings are in if the San Francisco 49ers beat the L.A. Rams Saturday night. At that point, it’s about chasing down a division title.

The Vikings can still win the NFC North with a win over the Packers Monday, followed by a win over the Bears in their regular season finale, coupled with a Packers’ loss to Detroit at Ford Field that same Sunday. While that last part is unlikely, it’s not impossible.

The Vikings remain focused on what they can control, which is beating their division rival Monday night to earn a spot in the playoffs. It’s an opportunity they haven’t capitalized on in three of the five years so far under Mike Zimmer.

“That’s our preparation going into a game. You’re going into a game you want to win, that’s our mindset, we want to win regardless. No matter if, not relying on another team to get into the playoffs. We’re trying to win,” wide receiver Stefon Diggs said.

Cousins has largely played up to the lofty expectations this season set by both himself and the fully-guaranteed contract he signed to come to Minnesota. Even in the Monday night loss at Seattle, Cousins threw for 276 yards and two touchdowns.

On Sunday Night Football at Dallas, he led the Vikings to a 28-24 win with 220 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He threw for 285 yards, but let Dalvin Cook do much of the work in a 19-9 win over the Washington Redskins on Thursday Night Football.

The Packers’ game at Lambeau Field in Week 2 this season is the one he’d probably like to have back. He led the Vikings back from a 20-0 deficit and had the ball with a chance to win the game. He then forced a throw to Diggs in the back of the end zone in tight coverage that was intercepted. He said repeatedly after that loss, “You can’t make that throw.”

But despite not being selected to the Pro Bowl, Cousins has had a standout year in his second season with the Vikings. He was named NFC Player of the Month after throwing for nearly 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns as the Vikings went 4-0 in October. Teams win and lose together, regardless of what happens Monday night in front of a national audience with a potential playoff spot at stake.

“If we get beat on Monday night, it’s not going to be because of Kirk Cousins. It’s because we didn’t win as a team. When we’ve won games this year, it hasn’t been because of Kirk even though he’s played good. We’ve won as a team,” Zimmer said. “We’re just going to stick to that mantra, that’s who we are and how we do things here. Hopefully he has a great game and hopefully we win, but it’s not all on him.”

While Adam Thielen returned last week after missing four straight games and a majority of the last six with a hamstring issue, Cousins will likely be without Cook Monday night after he injured his left shoulder at the L.A. Chargers last Sunday. In his absence, Mike Boone had 13 carries for 56 yards and two touchdowns in the second half of a 39-10 win.

As they say, next man up. Boone, the No. 3 running back at the start of the season, would be in line to get the start Monday if Cook and rookie Alexander Mattison can’t play. Mattison missed the Chargers’ win with a bad ankle, and did not practice on Thursday.

“We’ve got guys in the backfield that can shoulder the load, and you seen that on Sunday with Boone stepping in, Ameer stepping in and CJ taking some carries,” Cook said. “It just shows the next man up mentality and that’s the type of mentality we’ve got in that room.”

The Vikings haven’t been fully healthy on offense most of the season, so it might be in their best interest to let Cook heal for a potential playoff run. They have to get there first. That starts with beating the Packers, or being a 49ers fan Saturday night.

“We’d love to get a win for a lot of reasons and hopefully we can get that done,” Cousins said.