Kirk Cousins, Vikings Tie with Aaron Rodgers, Packers Amid Kicking Woes

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistSeptember 16, 2018

Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers throws during the second half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Morry Gash/Associated Press

The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers tied Sunday, 29-29, after Minnesota's Daniel Carlson missed two field-goal attempts in overtime, including what would have been a game-winner as overtime expired, and Mason Crosby missed a game-winning attempt as regulation time ended. 

Kirk Cousins was nothing short of spectacular in the tie, finishing 35-of-48 with 425 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. He led the Vikings to a game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter and twice led the team into field-goal range in overtime.

Despite coming into the game with a knee injury, Rodgers still put forth a solid showing against Minnesota's stout defense, finishing 30-of-42 with 281 yards and a score. He also rushed three times for eight yards despite clearly being less than 100 percent.

               

Cousins Looking Like Star in Minnesota

Take away the one interception late in the fourth quarter—and perhaps the inability to punch the ball into the end zone in overtime—and Cousins was about as good as you could ask for. He spread the ball around to six different receivers. He was clutch. He did more than enough to lead his team to victory. 

Nothing was more impressive than the final drive he led in regulation, with the Vikings trailing 29-21 and just 1:45 on the clock. He led the team 75 yards in a minute and 14 seconds, hitting Adam Thielen for a 22-yard touchdown pass. He then found Stefon Diggs in the corner of the end zone for the two-point conversion, and the game went to overtime after Mason Crosby was unable to hit a 52-yard field goal as time expired. 

As if that wasn't enough, Cousins led the Vikings on 39- and 63-yard drives in overtime, only to see Carlson miss both attempts. 

He's now thrown for 669 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception in two games, showcasing a budding relationship with Stefon Diggs (nine receptions for 128 yards and two scores) and Adam Thielen (12 receptions for 131 yards and a score) on Sunday.

The Vikings are a handful for opposing defenses when you also consider a running game led by the talented Dalvin Cook. And Cousins appears set to take this offense to new heights. You can nitpick the team's lack of aggression in overtime, but that comes down to coaching more than it does to Cousins' performance.

Thus far, the team's significant offseason investment in him is paying off.

                

Injury Won't Impede Rodgers' Stardom

There's no reason to sugarcoat it: Rodgers on one good leg is better than DeShone Kizer on two. Frankly, Rodgers on one good leg is better than most healthy quarterbacks, period. 

Look no further than the end of regulation. With 31 seconds remaining and the game tied at 29, Rodgers got the ball at his own 25. Four plays later, he drove the Packers 45 yards and set up Crosby with a game-winning field goal from 52 yards out. Crosby couldn't convert, and the narrative of the hobbled Rodgers heroically leading the Packers to victory went out the window. 

Rodgers had a chance to rewrite that story in overtime, though he only ended up with one possession, and the Packers managed just one first down. Nonetheless, Rodgers had already put the team in a position to win the game, which is precisely why he remains one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. 

And it isn't as though the Vikings didn't get after him. He was sacked four times. He was hit many, many times more than that. And consistently, Rodgers took the punishment and kept going.  

It's unclear if Rodgers will be able to keep himself upright on his hobbled knee if he keeps taking punishment. But it's clear that he's the team's best option at quarterback, hurt or not, and if he's lost for any significant period of time like he was last year, the Packers season is essentially over.

       

Vikings Must Address Kicker Issue Now

The Vikings and head coach Mike Zimmer need to do some soul-searching in regards to rookie kicker Carlson, who missed all three of his field-goal attempts in a crucial divisional matchup against the Packers, costing the Vikings a win. 

The decision is complicated by the fact that the team used a fifth-round pick on Carlson in this year's draft, and giving up on him after two games may be hasty. On the other hand, the Vikings are a Super Bowl contender, and if Carlson can't be trusted from inside 50 yards in a September game against the Packers, how might he fare in the pressure-packed environment of the postseason?

His performance caused consternation on Twitter: 

Jon Krawczynski‏ of The Athletic laid some of the blame on the team's front office and Zimmer, however: 

The Vikings, at the very least, may need to consider bringing aboard another player at the position. 

The team may decide to give Carlson a long leash in his rookie season after making a draft-pick investment in him. But the leash surely shortened considerably Sunday, and it's hard to imagine Carlson surviving another poor showing, if he even survives this one.

                  

What's Next?

The Vikings host the Buffalo Bills next Sunday, looking to earn their second win of the season, while the Packers will try to do the same at Washington.

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