How That Play Changed the Narrative on Kirk Cousins, Packers Defense

 Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins led his team to a 29-29 tie in his first start at Lambeau Field.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins led his team to a 29-29 tie in his first start at Lambeau Field.

When Clay Matthews and the Packers saw a game-winning interception by Jaire Alexander wiped out by a questionable penalty, the Vikings seized the opportunity.

Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins ultimately drove his team down the field and threw a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie the game at 29-29 with 31 seconds left.

The penalty’s impact on the game’s result is one thing – Jon discussed it in a review of the surprising, yet disappointing tie on Blue 58 – but one underlying impact was the effect it had on Cousins’ stats.

Entering Sunday’s game, Cousins’ passer rating was more than 10 points lower in the second half and nearly 15 points lower when his team was trailing. 

Cousins finished the Sunday’s tie completing 35 of 48 passes for 425 yards, 4 touchdowns and an interception. His passer rating for the entire game was an excellent 118.8. In the second half and overtime, Cousins’ passer rating was 108.4.

The crucial penalty just might have changed the trajectory of the 2018 season for both Cousins and the Packers defense. Let’s take a look at both.

How the narrative might have changed around Kirk Cousins

If Jaire Alexander’s interception with 1:45 had stood, here would have been Cousins’ stat line in a 29-21 Vikings loss:

23-32, 284 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs, 104.2 passer rating

Prior to Sunday’s tie, Cousins had started 30 games on the road and seen his teams go 10-19-1 in those contests. His average stat line was:

23-36, 269 yards, 1.6 TDs, 1 INT, 90.1 passer rating

The pressure on Cousins would have certainly increased going forward, as he would have thrown an interception on consecutive passes where the Vikings needed a score to either tie or take the lead.

Statistically, his performance against the Packers would have been exactly what he had done in the past – and it wouldn’t have been enough for Minnesota to defeat a hobbled Aaron Rodgers and a revamped defense still learning the scheme.

Cousins was paid $84 million guaranteed to give the Vikings an upgrade at quarterback, and tossing back-to-back interceptions with the game on the line is as close to a complete and utter failure as it gets.

Instead, the penalty stood and Cousins completed 12-16 passes for an additional 141 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating over that stretch was a sparkling 122.1.

Perhaps the opportunity to lead a successful, game-tying drive gives Cousins and the Vikings’ offense a boost of confidence. Perhaps Cousins himself will view the fourth quarter comeback as the start of a new leaf in his career and a departure from his typical struggles late in games.

How the narrative might have changed around the Packers’ defense

New Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine should be given a fresh start and a clean slate, but unfortunately the memories of the Dom Capers’ regime clouds many as they judge this defense.

Had Matthews’ penalty not been called, it’s likely the narrative out of Green Bay is how Pettine has turned a leaky defense into an ascending, championship-quality unit. 

Both high-profile rookies – first-round pick Jaire Alexander and second-round pick Josh Jackson – would have made game-changing plays. 

Instead, the Packers defense allowed the Vikings to gain 140 yards and score 22 points in the fourth quarter despite having the ball for just 2 minutes and 23 seconds.

And it all changes thanks to a little piece of yellow fabric.