Since starting 1-5, the Minnesota Vikings have won four of their last five games, and a victory over the Mike Glennon-led Jacksonville Jaguars (1-10) on Sunday would get them back to .500. In other words, they're right back in the playoff hunt. What, you ask, has been the biggest reason for the Vikings' resurgence? The answer is easy but not necessarily obvious league-wide: Kirk Cousins.
Anyone who's followed Minnesota over the last two years knows that Mike Zimmer's squad is built around running the ball and playing good defense. And while Zimmer's "D" has been more vulnerable than vaunted in 2020, star running back Dalvin Cook remains the centerpiece of what the Vikings do offensively. Hotshot rookie Justin Jefferson has also emerged as one of the game's top young weapons.
But no one rocking purple has made a turnaround quite like Kirk.
Since November, Cousins hasn't just improved, erasing concerns that he'd suddenly gone the way of NFC counterpart Carson Wentz and lost all ability to avoid weekly interceptions. He's vastly improved. His passer rating since Week 8, the Vikings' first game after the bye? The best in the NFL. He's also second in touchdown-interception ratio, third in completion percentage and third in passing TDs. He's been flat-out dominant.
Just look at the reversal after his first six weeks:
|Weeks||Record||TDs||INTs||Comp. %||YPA||QB rating|
Has Cousins been perfect? No. Common sense says he's still more of a "good" QB than a "great" one -- or, rather, one who's consistently able to rise above his surroundings, especially in pressure situations. But consider the pressure situation he was in at the bye week: Having regressed from efficient play-action specialist to turnover machine, he looked like a guy the Vikings would at least consider exiling as part of a 2021 rebuild. Since then, he's stepped up to the challenge -- including against the NFC North-leading Packers, the defensively stingy Bears and the ultra-competitive Panthers.
Oh, and the notion that all he does is lean on Dalvin Cook? Again, it's not wrong to call Cook the focal point and/or MVP of Minnesota's attack, but the running back's production has been roughly the same between Weeks 1-6 and 7-12. In Week 10, against the rival Bears, Cook managed just 3.2 yards on 31 carries, the same day Cousins threw nearly 300 yards and two scores in a 19-13 victory. In Week 12 against Carolina, Cook lost a fumble and gained just 61 yards (3.4 per carry), but Cousins carved up the Panthers' secondary to the tune of 307 yards, three TDs and a comeback drive. (That was also without starting receiver Adam Thielen.)
Cousins' true worth, of course, will be proven down the home stretch, when the Vikings will make a run at one of the NFC's three Wild Card spots. But if he's anything close to what he's been in the second half of the 2020 season, he won't have any trouble talking Minnesota into another go-round in 2021.