NFL Winners and Losers: Kirk Cousins might deserve some credit after another game-winning drive
There will always be a reason to avoid giving Kirk Cousins credit.
No, not every team the Minnesota Vikings have faced this season has choked. Any other quarterback with eight game-winning drives in the fourth quarter this season would be getting plenty of bouquets. Cousins will still, somehow, get no acclaim for the Vikings' latest comeback or their 12-3 record.
Ho hum, Cousins threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday, leading a game-winning drive after the New York Giants tied it with 2:01 left. The 27-24 win came right after the Vikings had the largest comeback victory in NFL history over the Indianapolis Colts. They trailed 33-0 in that game last week. Having a tied game with two minutes left must have felt easy on Saturday.
And yet, judging by how he's talked about, you'd think Cousins had nothing to do with all these wins.
That's fine; Cousins is just that player. He'll never get credit until the Vikings win a Super Bowl, and maybe not even then. The Vikings, who are outrunning their analytics by a mile this season, won't get much praise either. It's true that they are fortunate to keep winning close games. But maybe all that "luck" has something to do with their quarterback?
Before Saturday, no other quarterback had more than five fourth-quarter comebacks or game-winning drives this season. Cousins had seven and added his eighth in spectacular fashion Saturday. After the Giants tied it, Cousins did his thing, leading the Vikings downfield. A wonderful screen pass to Justin Jefferson picked up 17 yards, getting it just close enough for Greg Joseph to try a 61-yard field goal. He hit it, barely, as time expired and the Vikings had another thrilling win.
It won't matter. If someone tries to credit Cousins on social media, he or she will be shouted down by those who refuse to give Cousins even a tiny bit of respect. Even mentioning that the quarterback of a 12-3 team who has led eight game-winning drives might be less than terrible drives some people crazy. The critics have dug in on Cousins being horrendous and no amount of clutch wins — unless one comes in February — will change that.
That's OK. Cousins will keep doing what we praise all other quarterbacks for: leading the Vikings to exciting last-second wins. Maybe at some point people will recognize that he isn't really that bad.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 16 of the NFL season:
DeMeco Ryans: Nope, not the first time the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator has been in this category.
Give Ryans a head-coaching job as soon as possible. No coordinator has been better this season. The 49ers continued rolling through whoever they play, pounding the Washington Commanders 37-20. The Commanders kept it close for a while but eventually the 49ers defense pummeled them into submission. The Commanders pulled Taylor Heinicke for Carson Wentz in the fourth quarter.
Brock Purdy has been a big story for the 49ers and rightfully so. He played pretty well again. But Ryans should keep getting kudos. The 49ers are a Super Bowl contender because of his defense.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags had a nice Saturday.
They won on Thursday, and that’s always a good spot to be in. Then they watched the Tennessee Titans unravel without Ryan Tannehill in a 19-14 home loss to the Houston Texans, meaning they’re tied for first place in the AFC South. With that Titans defeat, the Tennessee at Jacksonville game in Week 18 will decide the AFC South champion.
The Titans led late, but Houston hit a couple long plays and Brandin Cooks scored to give Houston the lead. Titans rookie QB Malik Willis isn’t ready for that moment, or any other moments as an NFL quarterback really. Willis threw an interception after that. He had 61 yards passing before the Titans’ final desperation drive, which also came up short.
Tennessee could get Tannehill back from an ankle injury for Week 18 but that seems like a long shot. Either way, the Jaguars know they have a chance at a division title after trailing the Titans by four games five weeks ago.
Devin Singletary and James Cook: It was clear early in Saturday's game that Josh Allen wasn't going to do much for the Buffalo Bills. No matter how strong his arm is, it's difficult to throw in a wind tunnel.
For a while, the Chicago Bears led 10-6 and given the extreme weather, it seemed like the Bills were on upset alert. Then the running game and defense flipped things.
Singletary got a 33-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter and Cook followed that with a 27-yard score, and the Bills weren't going to give up that lead. The offense added a couple of insurance touchdowns late in the fourth quarter, which probably helped those who had Josh Allen in their fantasy lineups.
The Bills clinched the AFC East title and are still alive for the No. 1 seed in the AFC with the 35-13 win. They'll probably need to win out to hold off the Kansas City Chiefs, but they're down to two games (at Bengals and vs. Patriots).
The Bills could have some rough weather games in the playoffs no matter where they play them. They can't assume Allen will be able to throw it 40 times and carry the offense like he does most weeks. They won't face the Bears' terrible defense in the playoffs, but at least they showed they can win playing defense and running the ball.
Baltimore Ravens defense: The Ravens know the offense isn't going to score much as long as Lamar Jackson is out. They need to pitch near-shutouts to keep winning and perhaps take the AFC North.
That's what happened Saturday. The Atlanta Falcons moved the ball decently — rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder looked better in his second start — but they couldn't score. The signature sequence of the Ravens' 17-9 win was a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter. The Falcons tried running four times when they got to the Ravens' 4-yard line and that went nowhere. Tyler Allgeier was stopped for a loss on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Atlanta never reached the end zone in the loss.
The Ravens host the Steelers next week, and if they win, they ensure that a Week 18 game against the Bengals will be for the division title. Maybe Jackson will be back by then. They need it.
Kansas City Chiefs defense: The Seattle Seahawks are not the "Greatest Show on Turf" but they have been a competent offense most of the season. And the Chiefs looked good on defense in Saturday's win.
The Chiefs won 24-10, and the only time Seattle got in the end zone was late in the fourth quarter after the game was decided. Kansas City's defense has played better, though the Chiefs also are in a soft part of their schedule. Still, we know if the Chiefs are even decent on defense, Patrick Mahomes and the offense can win a Super Bowl.
The Chiefs were pretty good on defense Saturday. That's a great sign for them.
Gardner Minshew II (but not really): For those who are erroneously into QB wins as a stat, Jalen Hurts is 13-1 as the Philadelphia Eagles' starter and Minshew is 0-1.
That's really not the proper takeaway from the Eagles' 40-34 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, of course. Minshew probably made himself a lot of money on Saturday.
Minshew threw for 355 yards and almost took the Eagles the length of the field for the win in the final minutes of a narrow loss. How many teams would Minshew start for right now? The answer has to be in double digits. He's a good quarterback who happens to be the Eagles' backup (and a free agent after this season).
Hurts should return sometime soon from a shoulder injury. But until he does, Minshew can handle the job. He did enough on Sunday, though he'd probably like to have his two interceptions back. The Eagles will be just fine no matter who their quarterback is.
Rhamondre Stevenson: The New England Patriots had a chance for an enormous win.
They needed it for their playoff hopes, and the Patriots looked dead when they trailed 22-0 to the Cincinnati Bengals at halftime. Joe Burrow had 284 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. The Patriots seemed cooked.
Then the defense dug in and the Patriots got back in it. They trailed 22-18 when they recovered a fumble. A drive got them down to the Cincinnati 5-yard line in the final two minutes. Then Stevenson, a very good young running back, fumbled. Bengals safety Vonn Bell forced the fumble and Cincinnati recovered. The Patriots got it back once more after that, but their desperation drive didn't go anywhere and time ran out on a 22-18 Bengals win.
The Patriots needed that win. A bad fumble late cost them a chance for one of the best wins of the NFL season.
Detroit Lions' playoff chances: The problem with starting 1-6 is nothing can go wrong the rest of the season.
The Lions were playing very well, having won six of seven. And one awful afternoon probably unraveled everything.
The Lions got blasted by the Carolina Panthers 37-23 on Saturday. The Panthers set a franchise record for yards in a first half, and this isn't a good Carolina offense. Panthers running backs D'Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard each had 100 yards rushing before halftime. That's not good for Detroit. It was shocking given how the Lions have played lately.
The Lions aren't dead in the playoff race at 7-8 but it doesn't look great after Saturday. They really couldn't afford a loss at Carolina. And it wasn't even close.
Browns fans: Imagine sitting through miserable weather conditions just to watch your team fall to 6-9 with a loss.
The Cleveland Browns lost 17-10 to the New Orleans Saints and the game was as ugly as anticipated. It was cold, windy and looked like it was being played on an ice rink. At least the Browns let the fans who were there move down from the upper deck during the game. Though, a closer look probably wasn't pretty either.
The Browns' season has been lost for a while. Quarterback Deshaun Watson hasn't electrified the franchise or anything upon his return from suspension. The Saints were tougher and executed better Saturday. Sitting in the stands had to be a miserable way to spend an afternoon.