Quarterbacks get too much credit, and too much blame. The beauty of football is it’s a team game, but too often we can’t see past quarterbacks.
Yet, there’s a reason the quarterback gets paid more than everyone else and we pay attention to their every move. That’s why it will be a long offseason for Kirk Cousins.
The Minnesota Vikings didn’t make the playoffs a season after being one of the best teams in football, and that’s a team failure. The coaches didn’t do a good enough job, the defense took a big step back, and not everything in the offense was Cousins’ fault. But in the Vikings’ biggest games, Cousins was terrible. Whatever the opposite of clutch is, that’s what Cousins was this season.
The Vikings paid Cousins $84 million guaranteed to bring them to the Super Bowl. He couldn’t even bring them to the playoffs. Minnesota needed to win at home on Sunday against a Chicago Bears team that didn’t have a ton to play for, considering moving from a No. 3 seed to No. 2 in the NFC was a long shot. It was the type of game that Minnesota paid Cousins for, and it shouldn’t have had that great of a degree of difficulty.
And Cousins, as he has done all season, came up small in the biggest moments. The Vikings lost 24-10, and the Eagles took the No. 6 seed in the NFC as a result. Through the first quarter-and-a-half, Cousins was 4-of-6 for 27 yards. At the two-minute warning of the first half, the Vikings had 27 yards. They ended up with just 10 points. Cousins had 132 yards and the most notable thing about his day was a sideline argument with Adam Thielen in which he appeared to tell Thielen he didn’t have “10 seconds” while he ran his route. The Bears’ defense is good, but Cousins had to be better than he was.
All of it was ugly but not unexpected. This is what the Vikings have been all season. If they played a good team, they wilted. That’s especially true for Cousins.
Now what happens? The Vikings already fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, and you can’t blame him for what happened Sunday. Cousins isn’t going anywhere; all of his historic contract is guaranteed. The Vikings don’t have a ton of key free agents, but even if most of their core returns, will it be the 2017 team or the 2018 one that shows up? And due to Cousins’ huge salary, it puts limits on what Minnesota can do in free agency.
Vikings fans are among the most tortured in sports. They have never won a Super Bowl, and along the way have been dealt some of the most heartbreaking playoff losses imaginable. The Vikings seemed to be set up well to make a run this season. Last season they went 13-3 before it fell apart in the NFC championship game at Philadelphia. There’s always worry about momentum carrying from year-to-year, but Minnesota had a lot of pieces in place to repeat what it did. A defense that led the NFL in yards and points allowed had every key piece back and added talent in the offseason. The offense was mostly back too, and adding Dalvin Cook back from a torn ACL. Cousins is a better quarterback than Case Keenum, who had a good season in 2017. There was no reason for them to fall from 13-3 to 8-7-1, but here we are. A lot of fingers will be pointed at Cousins, and he deserves a lot of blame.
Cousins didn’t have a terrible season statistically, but his first year in Minnesota was an absolute bust. Cousins’ worst games came against the Vikings’ toughest opponents, and amazingly they beat only one team with a winning record all season. That was Week 5 against Philadelphia, which rallied from a 6-7 record to finish 9-7.
No matter the numbers, it was a bad season for Cousins. Part of the deal when a player is given $84 million is he will be the face of the team’s failure if it fails to live up to expectations. The Vikings were far from living up to expectations in Cousins’ first season. Minnesota has little choice but to run it back in 2019, but it’s hard to see how anything will be much different, unless Cousins figures out the formula for not disappearing in big moments.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 17 of the NFL season:
Kyle Allen: Maybe Allen had his one day in the sun that he can remember forever and nothing much more will come of it. However, plenty of backup quarterbacks have lasted a long time in the NFL (and made a lot of money) on less than what Allen did Sunday.
Allen, an undrafted rookie who was the third Carolina Panthers‘ third quarterback in three weeks, was pressed into duty and played very well. The Panthers led the disinterested Saints 23-0 at halftime. Allen was 13-of-21 for 173 yards and a touchdown in the first half. He left the game in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury, but overall his day was a smashing success. He finished with 228 yards and two touchdowns with a rating of 111.3.
Allen was signed to the practice squad after preseason but was cut and was a free agent for a while before the Panthers brought him back in late October. The odds of him emerging as one of the most effective quarterbacks in the NFL in Week 17 were astronomical when he was unsigned for most of the first half of the season, but funny things happen. And he definitely took advantage of his opportunity. It was one of those fun, random Week 17 stories.
If nothing else, Allen had the type of day he can tell his grandchildren about someday. And who knows, maybe it’s the start of a nice career for him.
The longtime Bills defensive tackle announced his retirement this past week. Sunday was his last game at the end of a 13-year career, all of which was spent in Buffalo. The Bills had some fun with him.
Williams was put in the game as a lead blocker on a goal-line play early in the game. Then late in the fourth quarter the Bills put him back on offense, he ran a flare route and caught a pass for a 9-yard gain. His teammates mobbed him afterward.
Williams is popular in Buffalo and in the Bills’ locker room, and he finished with a blowout win over the Dolphins. It was a nice way to end a heck of a career.
On the heels of an unsurprising report that the Bucs had decided to retain Winston for 2019, Winston had a big day to finish the season. He completed 22 of 35 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns.
Winston had a ridiculous year. He was suspended, failed when he got his starting job back, got another shot and alternated between good games and absolutely quiet ones, with a nice finish.
Teams don’t give up on young quarterbacks who have shown promise, no matter how much they cost or the downside involved. Winston was probably always going to get another shot in 2019, and on Sunday he gave the Buccaneers some hope the future will be brighter.
Why were the Cowboys’ starters playing the entire game? It doesn’t really make sense, considering the Cowboys couldn’t move up from the No. 4 seed in the playoffs. But Garrett got lucky and nobody got injured (he also got lucky that his first-round opponent, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, strangely didn’t rest any starters either).
You’d think it would be more important to get rest than play starters under the guise that you can fix whatever issues need to be fixed in a meaningless game against the Giants. Maybe you subscribe to the theory that players are better off without a bye week so they can stay sharp. That seems to be Garrett’s philosophy. And Prescott in particular did play very well in an exciting 36-35 win. We’ll see what happens next week. If the Cowboys look sluggish and lose, there will be plenty of fair questions about Dallas’ decision to play most of its starters throughout a Week 17 game instead of resting.
It was an odd decision, and at least the Cowboys didn’t take on a major injury. Garrett never would have heard the end of it.
Chicago Bears: The Bears might have been better off losing last week to the 49ers. Then they could have gotten a much-needed week of rest.
Chicago had to play it out Sunday in case the Rams lost to the 49ers. A Rams loss and Bears win would have given Chicago the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. The Bears played a physical Vikings team like a normal game, while the Rams were handling the 49ers as expected.
Unlike teams like the Cowboys and Seahawks who will play next weekend, the Bears didn’t have much of a choice. Had they sat starters and lost while the 49ers pulled off an upset, they’d have regretted it forever. But, as expected, their win over the Vikings on Sunday was ultimately meaningless. Impressive, but meaningless.
Some rest would have been nice in Week 17 for the Bears. But they didn’t have that luxury.
Those rooting against the Patriots to make another Super Bowl: The Patriots have been good this season, but it didn’t seem like a vintage Patriots team. Until Sunday.
Maybe the Patriots were waiting until late in the season to turn it on. We’ve seen that before. Sunday might have been the Patriots’ best game of the season, a 38-3 demolition of the New York Jets to clinch the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Tom Brady had four touchdowns, three of which came in a nearly flawless first half. Brady had nine touchdowns in the Patriots’ previous eight games before Sunday, and the offense often looked average. It looked like a new team against the Jets.
The Patriots finished the season undefeated at home, and keep that in mind. If the Chiefs lose their first playoff game, the Patriots would have to win just two home games to make another Super Bowl. On Sunday, they looked capable of it.
Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers are arguably the most talented team in the AFC. That might not mean much.
The Chargers didn’t get the help they needed from the Raiders on Sunday, which is no shock. The Raiders were blown out by the Chiefs, who won the AFC West and get the No. 1 seed.
Even though the Chargers should feel they’re one of the AFC’s best teams, the road to the Super Bowl is really hard now. They’ll have to win on the road three straight weeks, perhaps against the Ravens, Chiefs and Patriots in consecutive weeks, to make a Super Bowl.
CBS pointed out that only one No. 5 seed, the 2007 Giants, have won a Super Bowl under the current playoff format, which started in 1990. It’s really difficult to make it as a wild card.
The Chargers got unlucky to be in the same division as the Chiefs, but they had their chances. Home losses to the Broncos and Ravens in particular came back to bite them. Now they have a tough challenge ahead.
Blake Bortles: Bortles had a chance to rehabilitate his image a little before the offseason. Now, he might not have an easy time getting a backup job.
Bortles got a start in Week 17 due to an injury to Cody Kessler. He was terrible against the Texans. Bortles looked like the quarterback who struggled so much he lost his job to Kessler in midseason. He was often late with his reads, inaccurate when he did throw and his mechanics are still a mess.
Jacksonville will almost definitely have a new quarterback next season. Bortles will hit free agency. And even though he’s a former top-three pick with a lot of starting experience, it’s hard to figure out what his market will be.
AFC teams hoping to avoid the Ravens: The Ravens will be a difficult team in the playoffs. Their unique offense is a pain. For a short time Sunday, it looked like the rest of the AFC wouldn’t have to worry about them until next season.
The Cleveland Browns put up a spirited fight against the Ravens, and had the ball trailing 26-24. Cleveland got to Baltimore’s 39-yard line. They needed another first down to start thinking about a game-winning field goal. It seemed like a repeat for the Ravens, who were bounced out of the playoffs with a Week 17 loss to the Bengals last season. A loss on Sunday against the Browns, and Baltimore would be out again.
The Ravens got the stop they needed. They forced three incompletions and then Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley intercepted Baker Mayfield on fourth down. The Ravens won the AFC North, and none of the other five AFC playoff teams will like hearing that.
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Aaron Rodgers knocked out of Packers-Lions game with concussion
• Dolphins LB Kiko Alonso ejected for cheap shot on Bills QB
• Teddy Bridgewater completely flopped in his chance to shine for Saints
• Raiders TE completely checks out on route, resulting in pick-6
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