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It’s over. There was no Miracle at Minneapolis for Kyle Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings went down, hard, in a 24-10 loss to the Chicago Bears, a verdict that not only gave the Bears a sweep of the two divisional games with the Vikings, but knocked the Vikings clean out of any remaining chance at making the NFL playoffs.
The Vikings end up 8-7-1 to Chicago’s 12-4, and the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles slipped into the playoff field with a 14-0 rout of Washington.
While the game drew considerable attention, coming down to such a pivotal finish for the Vikings, it ended with the Vikings showing signs of frustration and turmoil.
Cousins, the big-time quarterback coach Mike Zimmer had craved all the time an unknown named Case Keenum led them to an 11-1 finish and a trip all the way to the NFC championship game, where a total burnout knocked them out of a chance at the Super Bowl, which the Eagles went on to win.
I have said my piece about the decision to sell the farm for Cousins, who seems like a good guy, and a strong, prototype quarterback for any team that has rigid discipline about robotic quarterbacks. In total contrast, Keenum was at his best when the system broke down - as the Vikings offensive line tends to do - and he can improvise, something Cousins seemed unable to do.
But instead of going out with class, we saw Cousins throw one way while receiver Adam Thielan went the other, and when Thielan discussed it with Cousins on the sideline, the two could be seen arguing about it. Obviously not on the same page. In fact, without reading too much into it, it seemed curious that right after Thielan had his disagreement with Cousins and walked away, Stefon Diggs could be seen walking over to Cousins and appeared to be “kissing up” to the quarterback.
In the game, Cousins connected with Diggs seven times, for 47 yards, and only threw to Thielan three times, for 38 yards.
At the end of the game, when Cousins missed a couple receivers by a considerable margin, the camera caught Biggs walking off the field, having removed his helmet, which he then threw toward the bench.
Tough when the personalities don’t mesh. Cousins, meanwhile, wound up with an awful team in Denver, although I was amazed at the way the broadcast team ridiculed Keenum’s play with a Broncos team that has no defense, no running attack, and absolutely no blocking ability. For that, Keenum wasn’t as good as he was with the Vikings last year, but he was nowhere as bad as those announcers made him out to be.
It’s been fun to compare the two, although we know what Keenum did for the Vikings a year ago, cementing the team unity and leading them almost to glory. In Sunday’s games, Cousins was 20-for-33 for 132 yards and a touchdown, and a quarterback rating of 79.4. Denver lost 23-9 to the Los Angeles Chargers, and Case Keenum was 31-for-48 passing for 292 yards and a touchdown and a quarterback rating of - wait for it - 79.5.
Elsewhere, quarterbacks were hitting playoff stride. Tom Brady was 24-33 for 250 yards and 4 touchdowns and a whopping 133.8 QB rating as New England romped 38-3 over the New York Jets; Dak Prescott led Dallas to a thrilling 36-35 victory over the New York Giants, hitting 27-44 for 387 yards, 4 TDs and a rating of 120.2; Jared Goff led the Los Angeles Rams to a 48-32 victory over San Francisco, going 15-26 passing for 199 yards, 4 touchdowns, and a 121.6 rating.
Then there’s my favorite: Russell Wilson. His stats weren’t great, 12-21 for 152 yards, one TD and one interception, and a meager rating go 75.9. But all Wilson did was lead the Seahawks to a last second victory, taking them down the field with a great sideline pass to Tyler Lockett to set up Sebastian Janikowski for a 33-yard field goal as time expired for a 27-24 victory over Arizona. The Cardinals got a spectacular touchdowns from Larry Fitzgerald, who ran a diagonal pattern toward the right corner, reached up over his head, and made a one-handed catch with his left hand.
So now we get to the playoffs. In the NFC, New Orleans is No. 1 and the Rams No. 2, followed by Chicago, Dallas and wild cards Seattle and Philadelphia. So the Eagles go to Chicago this weekend, and Seattle goes to Dallas for what should be a pair of exceptional games.
In the AFC, Kansas City is No. 1 and New England No. 2, followed by Houston, Baltimore, and the wild card LA Chargers and Indianapolis Colts. This weekend, Indianapolis goes to Houston and the LA Chargers go to Baltimore, with neither of those games having the attractiveness of the NFC.
I could see the Seahawks beating Dallas and the Bears whipping Philadelphia, and then Seattle would go to New Orleans, where a Russell Wilson vs. Drew Brees match would be the highlight of the entire playoffs.
And the Vikings? Such high hopes and such a failure to live up to expectations. My feeling was that the Vikings had a lot of talent, but didn’t improve their situation with the addition of the high-priced Cousins. I remain convinced that the Vikings had one of the rare current crop of quarterbacks in Case Keenum who was the perfect fit as spiritual and skill leader who united the entire team with his chemistry. Last year was not a fluke, and the Miracle in Minneapolis may have been the just reward for a team playing with unity of purpose.
This year’s team never had that. I don’t blame Cousins, but he never had an ounce of Keenum’s leadership characteristics, no matter how nice a guy he is. Now that the national broadcasters have seen fit to rip Keenum’s play in Denver, where he spent the year running for his life, his days there might be numbered. He may never again duplicate the great year and unlimited potential he had with the Vikings, and they’ll never know it.
With improved rushing, a solid defense, and the high-buck quarterback, national broadcasters are as baffled as coach Mike Zimmer at the Vikings fall from grace.
Oh well, we can all sit back and enjoy the playoffs without the Vikings or Packers, and enjoy cheering the Minnesota Wild back into contention