But the Vikings believed in Kirk Cousins. Sunday showed exactly why they wanted him, and paid a hefty price to make sure it happened.
It wasn’t Cousins’ fault that the Vikings tied the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, and didn’t win. Had it not been for some massive special teams failures, we’d all be talking about how Cousins has closed the gap on the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers in the NFC North. You could see it on Sunday.
Cousins was the main reason the Vikings got a half of a win — and don’t underestimate how important half of a win on the road could be in a great division race. Cousins was amazing. He completed 35 of 48 passes for 425 yards and four touchdowns. He did so despite an offensive line that didn’t protect him that well (and yes, he and the Vikings benefited from a soft roughing-the-passer penalty on Clay Matthews, but those are the rules). The Vikings played from behind most of the day, but Cousins wouldn’t let them lose.
When the Packers took a 23-14 lead, Cousins hit Stefon Diggs for a 75-yard touchdown. When the Vikings trailed 29-21, Cousins took them on a late eight-play, 75-yard drive, hitting Adam Thielen for a 22-yard touchdown and Diggs for a two-point conversion to tie. And in overtime he made a few nice passes to put rookie Daniel Carlson in position for a short field goal to win it. Carlson just missed. Perhaps the game wouldn’t have gone to overtime had the Vikings not allowed a touchdown on a blocked punt early in the game. Hard to pin that on Cousins.
There was blowback against Cousins this offseason. Part of that was his contract. A three-year, $84 million fully guaranteed deal was bound to put him under the microscope. There were strange criticisms of him, none stranger than Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden saying Cousins wasn’t that good because Washington went 7-9 last season with him. Gruden, of all people, should know the only reason Washington got seven wins with a banged-up roster is because Cousins had a remarkable season in spite of everything falling apart around him.
Maybe Cousins will never get the respect he deserves. He’s not Rodgers, Tom Brady or Drew Brees, but he is a quality quarterback. Perhaps people can’t get over his fourth-round draft pedigree, or the fact that he’s not imposing physically. He doesn’t have a cannon arm. He doesn’t provide a ton of splashy highlights. He just produces, season after season.
The one way Cousins can silence his doubters is by taking the Vikings to a Super Bowl. Judging quarterbacks solely on championship rings is wrong, but we all know that’s not going to change.
And Cousins might be able to win a title. The Vikings are very good. There are weaknesses, like the offensive line and relying on a rookie kicker, but the defense is championship-caliber — Rodgers will put up yards on anyone, and the Packers had to fight for every yard they got Sunday — and the offense has some great playmakers.
This offseason, the Vikings decided the missing piece was Cousins. They felt he was far better than Keenum, who was fantastic last season. On Sunday, you could see exactly why the Vikings put their faith in Cousins. Don’t let the tie fool you. It was a good day for the Vikings.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 2 of the NFL season:
Case Keenum: Let’s not forget the player Cousins replaced. Keenum passed his first big test in Denver.
Sunday’s game wasn’t a masterpiece by Keenum, by any means. There was another bad interception deep in Raiders territory. He completed only 19 passes. Denver’s offense was shut out by a bad Raiders defense in the first half.
But in John Elway country, Broncos fans like quarterbacks who can rally late. And Keenum did that.
Keenum led two clutch drives to pull out a win. On the first one, he ran up the middle for a touchdown from an empty formation on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Then after a huge stop from the defense just before the two-minute warning, Keenum led a 62-yard drive for Brandon McManus’ game-winning field goal. After a bad drop by Demaryius Thomas, Keenum kept his head and hit Tim Patrick on a short pass that Patrick turned into a 26-yard gain. That play basically won the game. It was Patrick’s first career catch.
The Broncos’ 2-0 start has had some bumps along the way, Keenum’s play included. But it’s still 2-0. That’ll buy Keenum a lot of goodwill.
Ryan Tannehill: It seemed as if Tannehill came into this season fighting for his job beyond 2018. If that was the case, he’s off to a good start.
Tannehill had a solid outing against the Jets, and the Miami Dolphins are 2-0. He completed 17 of 23 passes for 168 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Dolphins are still running a very conservative offense, which was not what coach Adam Gase was supposed to bring to Miami, but it worked. While Jets quarterback Sam Darnold looked like a rookie in his second start, Tannehill never made the big mistake that killed his team. He had very nice touchdown throws to Albert Wilson and A.J. Derby in the second half to give the Dolphins a 20-0 halftime lead. He was good enough.
Tannehill may never be one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, but the Dolphins stuck by him this season. That allowed him the chance to reestablish himself in the Dolphins’ long-term plans. There’s a long way to go this season, but the Dolphins can’t complain so far.
Steve Sarkisian, Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons: After a week of hearing criticism of their red-zone offense, following an offseason of hearing criticism of their red-zone offense, give the Falcons credit for fixing the issue on Sunday.
The Falcons didn’t flail around in the red zone against the Panthers. The Falcons got inside the 20-yard line four times, and scored four touchdowns. That fueled a 31-24 win.
“When we got our chances, we nailed them across the board today,” Ryan said. “The execution was great.”
Ryan looked bad in the opener at Philadelphia, but threw for 272 yards and two touchdowns against the Panthers, and rushed for two touchdowns too.
The win Sunday was a big one in what should be a tight NFC South race. After a poor opener, the Falcons looked a lot better, especially near the end zone.
Quarterback play around the NFL: Don’t worry, it won’t be long before someone complains about quarterback play in the NFL. It’s an annual tradition.
But before you buy it this season, consider that there has never been a larger group of capable NFL quarterbacks than we have right now.
In the first 14 games of Week 2, 12 quarterbacks threw for more than 300 yards. Three threw for more than 400 (those three combined for 11 touchdowns and two interceptions). Only four quarterbacks threw two interceptions, and no quarterback threw more than that. Guys like Andy Dalton, Blake Bortles and Ryan Fitzpatrick — who nobody would put in the top category of NFL quarterbacks — threw for four touchdowns and looked great leading wins. Patrick Mahomes, who looks like the NFL’s next superstar, threw for six touchdowns as the Chiefs improved to 2-0 with a win at the Steelers. More than half of the quarterbacks before the Sunday night game, 17 of 28, posted a passer rating of 100 or more in Week 2. Three others were above 97.
Keep all of this in mind later in the season, when people inevitably dig up the old reliable trope about how bad quarterback play is in the NFL. It’s not true. Quarterback play has never been better, top to bottom. Enjoy it.
New Orleans Saints’ status as a Super Bowl contender: Yes, the Saints won on Sunday. But if you watched, you know the Saints looked nothing like one of the best teams in football, which they were expected to be.
The only reason the Saints aren’t 0-2 with home losses to the Buccaneers and Browns is that Browns kicker Zane Gonzalez had a horrendous day. The Saints’ offense was stuck most of the day – Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas were the only players around Drew Brees who seemed to show up – and for most of the day they were headed for a loss. Even when they took a lead with 21 seconds left, they still allowed the Browns to get right downfield to attempt a game-tying field goal.
Getting a win buys time, but it wasn’t impressive. The Saints just completed the easiest two-game stretch on their schedule and were lucky to not lose both. New Orleans was 0-2 last year too, albeit against much tougher competition, and turned it around. Maybe that happens again this season. But the Saints looks nothing like the team that was one of the NFL’s best last season.
Washington Redskins: All the momentum from Washington’s Week 1 win at the Arizona Cardinals is gone. It turns out the Redskins weren’t that good, Arizona is just that bad (more on the Cards in a bit).
Washington looked horrible on Sunday. The Colts, who have holes up and down the roster, were never in danger of losing. They won 21-9. Adrian Peterson, who was very good in Week 1, looked like he was 33 years old on Sunday. Peterson had 20 yards on 11 carries. Alex Smith did little to push the ball downfield, hitting running back Chris Thompson 13 times for 92 yards. That was basically the only offense Washington had.
The Redskins are in a weird spot. They paid a lot to get Smith at quarterback and are now fully invested in the 34-year-old for a few years. Their coach, Jay Gruden, is 29-36-1 and can’t feel too secure if he doesn’t have a good season. Their fans are apathetic, with plenty of empty seats at the home opener on Sunday. Sunday’s pratfall won’t help anything.
Jameis Winston: The question becomes when Winston might possibly get his job back later this season. Because it can’t be Week 4.
While the long-term outlook for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won’t be helped by giving Ryan Fitzpatrick starts over Jameis Winston, they can’t bench Fitzpatrick now. Not after how well Fitzpatrick has played, and not after a 2-0 start against the Saints and Eagles. Outside of injury (or the Buccaneers doing something crazy), there’s no realistic scenario in which Fitzpatrick isn’t still the starter Week 4 when Winston returns. Fitzpatrick has 819 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception in two games. While nothing in Fitzpatrick’s past indicates he can keep up anything near that pace, he’ll play until he shows otherwise. Besides, you’re not benching someone with this much swag:
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s postgame look: pic.twitter.com/4qkRyu7l7X
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) September 16, 2018
If the Fitzmagic runs out at some point this season, perhaps the Buccaneers make the switch back to Winston. While the Fitzpatrick story is fun, it’s hard to talk yourself into a story in which he’s the future at quarterback for the Buccaneers. That’s still Winston, if he can ever stay out of trouble. But it’s clear after two games, Winston has lost his job.
Steve Wilks, Matt Patricia and Jon Gruden: Some first-year head coaches did better in Week 2, after that group went 0-7 in Week 1. Some still look absolutely lost.
Three of the new coaches are off to awful starts. Gruden’s Raiders blew a big fourth-quarter lead at Denver, and then Gruden showed some remarkable lack of self-awareness by blaming the Raiders’ pass rush for not getting pressure late. He was instrumental in trading Khalil Mack before the season.
At least the Raiders have been competitive in both of their games. Wilks’ Cardinals look like the second-worst team in football (sorry, Buffalo). Arizona lost 34-0 to the Rams on Sunday and have been outscored 58-6 in two games. The Cardinals weren’t expected to do much this season, but they shouldn’t be this bad. The Cardinals were 8-8 a year ago. Incredibly, after Sunday’s blowout Wilks said he never even considered benching mediocre Sam Bradford for rookie Josh Rosen, which is troubling. Why wouldn’t he consider that? Anyone else would.
Patricia isn’t off to a much better start. The Lions looked better than their Week 1 debacle (they must have changed those hand signals) but still fell 30-27 at the 49ers. The 0-2 Lions face an angry Patriots team next, then play at Dallas and get the Packers at home. An 0-5 start is on the table for Patricia.
There’s time for these coaches to turn things around, but the starts have been ugly.
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