EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings have reached the final week of the regular season with a spot in the playoffs still unsecured and a surging division rival boasting one of the NFL’s best defenses on the schedule.
This is the type of game, then, for Kirk Cousins to make good on that $84 million in guaranteed money. The NFC North champion Chicago Bears will pose a stiff challenge, as the Vikings are well aware from their previous matchup last month.
“There will always be excitement, nerves, anxiety, butterflies, whatever you want to call it. That will always be there. This matters to me,” Cousins said when asked about his ability to manage his emotions in high-stakes games. “I joke with people that when the math teacher junior year of high school said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a pop quiz,’ you start to feel the butterflies. Because you want to do well. It matters to you. Frankly, I think when I have butterflies, I play a little better because it heightens your awareness and your attention to detail and your sense of urgency.”
With Khalil Mack bringing a relentless pass rush from the edge, Akiem Hicks blowing up running plays in the middle, and Kyle Fuller leading the clampdown in the secondary, the Bears made the first three quarters of that game on Nov. 18 miserable for Cousins and the offense . The Vikings had only 77 total yards in the first half, lost a fumble and didn’t score until the last play of the third quarter. Cousins took two 8-yard sacks and threw two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.
“This is not a defense that we’re going against that teams are putting 50 points up against, or having 500 yards of offense, and that may not be the game that’s required to win,” Cousins said. “If our defense and special teams play really well, who knows? Offensively, if we don’t have the most dynamic day but we come out with a win, then that’s what we do.”
The Bears (11-4) are assured of at least the No. 3 seed, with the chance to move up and get a first-round bye with a victory over the Vikings (8-6-1) and a loss by the Los Angeles Rams at home to the San Francisco 49ers. With a win, the Vikings will return to the playoffs and set up a likely rematch with the Bears next week in the wild-card round. If they lose, they would need the Philadelphia Eagles to lose at Washington to keep their postseason spot.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who have a lot of pride and character, so I think they’ll be ready for the challenge,” coach Mike Zimmer said, “and it will be a great challenge. We’ll obviously need the home fans there and nice and loud for us, but I feel good about it.”
Cousins has had his share of shaky performances in his first year in Minnesota, where he’s signed through 2020. The Bears prompted one of those, but he bounced back the following week to beat the Packers with one of his best games of the season. That’s the kind of resilience Cousins has relied on throughout his career and that the Vikings have exhibited in five years under Zimmer.
“It’s not just necessarily with the quarterback,” Zimmer said. “It’s with your whole football team, that you have that kind of mentality that we’re going to fight through this little bit of struggle that we’re having right now and get back to work and good things are going to happen if we keep fighting.”