MINNEAPOLIS - Two things are very clear for the Minnesota Vikings as they embark on the second half of their schedule after a 6-2 start: There is still plenty of work to do to assure themselves a playoff spot, but they also feel as if they largely control their own destiny.
The Vikings have come an incredibly long way from a 2-2 start, Kirk Cousins apologizing to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs no-showing for team meetings and practice.
It’s all a thing of the past as the Vikings went 4-0 in their second quadrant of the season. The stretch included wins at the New York Giants, against the Eagles, at Detroit and then beating the Redskins on a short week at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Vikings got the weekend off, and they’re now refreshed for the last eight games. It’s a stretch that includes three of their next four on the road, and against teams with a combined 33-27-1 record. It all starts at Kansas City on Sunday, against a Chiefs squad that leads the AFC West despite being without quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He’s working his way back from a dislocated kneecap and didn’t play in the Chiefs’ 31-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers Sunday night.
The Chiefs are just 1-3 at Arrowhead Stadium this season, and have lost three straight at home. They’re looking to avoid a four-game home losing streak, and the Vikings are looking to win their fifth straight overall.
“I think we play a lot of contenders in these next eight weeks and they’re obviously are a contender. This will be a good test for us, they’re good football team and we’re going to have to play good to win,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.
If the Vikings are going to continue to win games and score points, they’ll do it through Cousins and Dalvin Cook on offense. Cook leads the NFL in rushing through eight weeks with 823 rushing yards, and leads the league in yards from scrimmage with 1,145.
He's seen an increased role in the passing game, with at least four catches in half of the Vikings’ games this season. The Vikings are 3-1 in those games. He says he’s ready for the test that the final eight games, particularly Sunday, will bring.
“We got where we wanted to be at, so we’ve just got to finish this thing off in the second half and we’ve got some good teams head of us,” Cook said.
Cousins has been on fire since the Vikings’ Week 2 loss at Chicago. Before beating the Redskins, Cousins had passed for a combined 967 yards and 10 touchdowns with just one interception in wins over the Giants, Eagles and Lions.
Cousins was 23-of-26 for 285 yards against the Redskins. His three incompletions were two throwaways, and a Cook drop. In their four-game win streak, Cousins leads the NFL with a 137.1 passer rating and over the last five weeks, he’s second in passing yards (1,262), and leads the NFL in completion percentage (78.4), is tied for the NFL lead with 10 touchdowns and his one interception is tied for third-fewest.
Those numbers earned him the NFC Offensive Player of the Month award for October. But it’s only eight games, and there’s still plenty to prove.
“I think we have to prove everything. I think that all this is right now is just put ourselves in a position for these last eight games to mean something. The eight games will tell a story. If we get the job and win some of these critical games, it will be a great narrative and a great story as we get closer to the end of the year. If we don’t win these challenging games, then that certainly drives the narrative too,” Cousins said. “The work is all out in front of us.”
That narrative, until this last stretch of wins, is that the $84 million man has come up short for the Vikings in big games. He gets at least a few chances to prove the doubters wrong over the last eight games.
The stretch consists of three of the next four on the road, including Sunday Night Football on the road against the NFC East leading Dallas Cowboys and Monday Night Football at the 6-2 Seattle Seahawks after Sunday’s game against the Chiefs. The luxury for the Vikings, if you want to call it that, is hosting all three NFC North Division teams in three of their final four games.
Last year with a playoff spot at stake, the Vikings fell flat in a 24-10 loss to the Bears and were eliminated from the postseason. This year, the Dec. 23 date with the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium may ultimately decide the division.
“We’ve got a great chance here with eight games to prove that we belong in the conversation at the end,” Cousins said.