Kirk Cousins has Aaron Rodgers numbers but Vikings need more

Questions surround whether Cousins can actually lead the Vikings to the playoffs

Let’s do a quick comparison to test your sports prejudices:

Quarterback A has thrown 23 TD passes and 4 interceptions. He’s averaging 261.6 passing yards per game and his passer rating is 105.5.

Quarterback B has thrown 23 TD passes and 3 interceptions. He’s averaging 273.9 passing yards per game and his passer rating is 105.3.

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SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 28: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings reacts after a rushing touchdown by teammate Alexander Mattison #25 (not in photo) in the third quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on November 28, 2021 in Santa Clara, California.

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 28: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings reacts after a rushing touchdown by teammate Alexander Mattison #25 (not in photo) in the third quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on November 28, 2021 in Santa Clara, California. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Quarterback B also has a better completion percentage — 67.7 percent to 66.2.

You’d say these two quarterbacks are having comparable seasons, right?

Not quite.

Quarterback A, the guy with the generally inferior statistics, is Aaron Rodgers. And he’s among the leading candidates for the NFL MVP award because he tilts the field in favor of his team, which combined with an effective defense, has turned the Green Bay Packers into a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Quarterback B, the guy with the generally better stats, is Kirk Cousins.

No one thinks he’s an MVP candidate and very few people outside of the Minnesota Vikings organization are expecting him to lift his team to any great heights the final few weeks of this season or enter that MVP race because his reputation is almost 180 degrees removed from Rodgers.

If Rodgers is the classic big-stage and comeback-drive hero, Cousins has been the guy on a team who too often falls short at the end of games. He’s also been the guy who struggles in the second half of games when the outcome’s being decided — as he did last week at San Francisco.

And yet, the Vikings need Cousins, who has statistics comparable to Rodgers, to be more like Rodgers the final weeks of this season if they’re to make the playoffs.

And Cousins seemingly understands that.

"We certainly understand what’s out there for us," Cousins said this week amid preparations for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions. "We’re going to have to play at a high level, and it’s not going to come easy."

The Vikings are one of six NFC teams with five wins. That means they need to piece together a win streak of sorts to secure the final postseason berth in the conference

And it says here Cousins is the guy who needs to lead that charge or it simply isn’t going to happen.

That may sound strange to those familiar with Cousins’ career arc.

He long ago developed a reputation, fair or not, as a quarterback who needed everything around him to be good so he could be good. Now, the remainder of this season, he has to be good despite everything else not being good.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) stands on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, in Minneapolis.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) stands on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Otherwise the Vikings have no chance of making the postseason.

Come to think of it, even when Cousins has been good at times this season, the Vikes have lost — the season-opening overtime loss to Cincinnati being exhibit A.

But Cousins has had encouraging moments of clarity. He’s led three game-winning drives. And he mostly matched Rodgers in a Week 11 win over Green Bay.

So it’s possible Cousins can be that guy the season’s final month. But will that be enough?

It’s hard to predict because the Vikings have been here before. And it didn’t go well.

Last season they were 6-6 and needed to play their best football the final month of the season to secure a playoff spot.

Nope.

Minnesota lost three consecutive games and were eliminated from playoff contention before winning what was a meaningless season finale.

These Vikings obviously are optimistic the final few weeks this season will be far different.

"I feel a lot different about this team than I did at this time a year ago," coach Mike Zimmer said. "They’ve shown they have a lot of heart and fight. We’ve basically been in every ballgame, could have won several others. So, we’ll just play it out and see where it goes."

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 15: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings and Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers after the game at Lambeau Field on September 15, 2019 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 15: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings and Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers after the game at Lambeau Field on September 15, 2019 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

Cousins also sees differences this year that could lead to a different outcome.

"Health is a big part of it," he said. "We got pretty beat up last year, especially on defense and that made it tough. I think that if we can stay healthy and keep guys out there, that really helps.

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"That’s something you’re kind of week to week trying to figure out, but I believe we have a lot of the same players that were here last year and I think experience should help and make you a better team, a more savvy team, more veteran team. I believe that can help us down the stretch."

In speaking with reporters this week, Cousins said the Vikings were eager to get over their San Francisco loss and "have a great week."

It will have to start with him.