Kirk Cousins on NFL referees: 'I don't want their job'

Head coach Mike Zimmer of the Minnesota Vikings argues with a referee in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium on October 13, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minnesota Vikings defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 38- ((Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images))

The Minnesota Vikings are doing their best to toe the line when being asked about NFL officiating this week as they prepare for the Detroit Lions.

The Vikings are looking for their first NFC North Division win of the season Sunday at Ford Field. The Lions will be playing six days removed from a 23-22 loss to the Green Bay Packers, where social media exploded during Monday Night Football over two phantom flags and one that probably should’ve been called, but wasn’t.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday he got an email from Bob Hagan, the team’s vice president of communications, after the Lions' controversial loss. It simply said, “You’re not allowed to comment on officiating.”

Zimmer knew he would get questions about the Monday night game as the Vikings get ready to head to Detroit.

“I think the politically correct answer is that throughout time, coaches have been frustrated when they’ve (been) getting conceived bad calls against them. And I better stop right there,” Zimmer said.

The Lions were on the verge of beating the Packers at Lambeau Field on Monday Night Football when, good or bad, the officials affected the outcome of the game in the fourth quarter. The Lions were driving down field to potentially put the game away when the Packers interfered with a receiver on a Matthew Stafford pass. There was contact before the ball arrived, no flag. The Lions punted.

Aaron Rodgers did what he does. He got the Packers in field goal range to win the game, but did it with some help from the officials. Trey Flowers was flagged twice for illegal use of hands to the face, both 5-yard penalties. More importantly, automatic first downs for the Packers. The Lions’ defense would’ve been off the field in both instances. Replays clearly showed Flowers engaged with the shoulders of a Packers’ offensive lineman, not the neck or head area. Neither flag should’ve been thrown.

Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousins was diplomatic when asked Wednesday about penalties in late-game situations. Cousins said they get shown a video during training camp ever year on what officials are fine-tuning and what the league is emphasizing with penalties every year.

“I think first of all you have to understand this is a really fast game with a lot of judgment calls. I certainly couldn’t make these calls in full speed with one shot at it, so I like to give them grace and understand that I don’t want their job. I have a tough job, but I don’t want their job,” Cousins said. “They’re going to do the best they can, they work really hard at it, and every year they fine tune. You know they’re giving everything they have, they’re highly-scrutinized just like the rest of us. I leave it up to people that are in that role to get it right.”

Cousins went so far as to say he looks around after every time the Vikings make a big play on offense, assuming there's a flag and that it will get called back.

Referees aside, the reality for the Vikings is they’re winless in the NFC North with two road losses, and can’t really dwell on something they can’t control. They’re focused on playing their own brand of football and letting that dictate the outcome, not the guys holding the yellow flags.

“Penalties, I think last week we did a great job with that. Just keep playing clean football on the road, and limiting the refs to making decisions for us and just playing our football, and we’ll have a good outcome,” Cook said.

He’s right. They had their best game of the season last week in the penalty area. The Vikings were flagged just four times for 30 yards in the 38-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

They’ve got some things to clean up when it comes to playing on the road in the NFC North. They had eight penalties for 100 yards in a 21-16 loss at Green Bay. They had seven for 55 yards in the 16-6 loss at Chicago. They’re tied for sixth in the NFL with 48 penalties against through six games, with Kansas City and Dallas.

“We talk every week about penalties and what we need to do to clean things up. We still got a long way to go in that area,” Zimmer said.

The Vikings know they need to play clean football, and the offense needs to keep taking steps forward if they want a win at Ford Field on Sunday. The NFC North is more competitive than usual six weeks into the season. Not one team has a below .500 record.

Detroit is the bottom-feeder at 2-2-1.  The Bears are 3-2, and 1-1 in the NFC North. The Vikings are 4-2, with their only losses coming within the division. The Packers are 5-1, and most importantly, 3-0 in the NFC North. The strength of the division is not lost on receiver Stefon Diggs, who is coming off a career game of 167 yards and three touchdowns against the Eagles.

“This division is really good football at this point. We always had a couple good teams, but I feel like every team in this division is good,” Diggs said. “Playing division games are always a challenge because you see those guys on the regular. They know you, you know them. It’s always a must-win.”

There’s not a lot of room for error in the division as we’re six games in, making Sunday's game pivotal for both teams. The Lions don’t want to fall below .500, and the Vikings need to avoid an 0-3 start in the NFC North.

“First of all, Detroit is a good football team. It’s going to be a hard game regardless. What we need to do is try to win each week and try to go from there,” Zimmer said. “The more wins that we can stack up, the better chance we have at the end of the year to be there.”