Cousins stays in cru­cible af­ter move

Daily Press (Sunday) - - Sports - By Adam Kilgore The Wash­ing­ton Post

As with Red­skins, fans stay luke­warm on QB’s per­for­mance

Play­ing for the Vik­ings on a fully guar­an­teed con­tract, Kirk Cousins en­joys pro­fes­sional se­cu­rity and per­sonal sta­bil­ity while chas­ing a Su­per Bowl for a steady fran­chise. Play­ing for the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins on a se­ries of one-year deals, Cousins won­dered about his job sta­tus and place of res­i­dence while at­tempt­ing to tame ever-present chaos and over­come in­grained medi­ocrity. His new em­ployer cov­eted him and em­braces him. His old one mis­pro­nounced his name.

For all the po­lar­ity Cousins ex­pe­ri­enced be­tween this season and last, the way his team’s fan base thinks about him has re­mained static. For years with Wash­ing­ton, he ex­isted as both a promis­ing quar­ter­back and a source of re­gional queasi­ness: Is he worth the big con­tract the team could give him? For half a season in Min­ne­sota, he has ex­isted as both a fran­chise quar­ter­back and a source of re­gional queasi­ness: Is he worth the big con­tract the team gave him?

Late Sun­day af­ter­noon, Cousins will take his lat­est crack at putting Min­nesotans at peace about their 30-year-old, $84-mil­lion quar­ter­back. In the thick of the NFC play­off pic­ture at 6-4-1, the Vik­ings will travel to New Eng­land for an­other cru­cial game that will clar­ify the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Cousins and his new home, an­other data point in Cousins’ new re­al­ity.

When Cousins de­clined low­ball con­tract of­fers from Wash­ing­ton and played con­sec­u­tive sea­sons on the fran­chise tag, he ap­plied pres­sure on him­self. When he signed a three-year guar­an­teed con­tract to lead a Su­per Bowl con­tender, he in­vited pres­sure from ex­ter­nal forces.

“I know that as an NFL quar­ter­back, you’re go­ing to get scru­ti­nized,” Cousins said prior to the Vik­ings beat­ing Green Bay last week. “I was mak­ing the league min­i­mum my fourth year in Wash­ing­ton, and I was pretty scru­ti­nized that year, too. When you’re an NFL quar­ter­back, it goes with­out say­ing you’re go­ing to be judged inside the build­ing, out­side the build­ing, and you un­der­stand that’s what you signed up for.”

Over the past two weeks, Cousins has given fod­der to both devo­tees and doubters. In a Sun­day prime-time loss to the Bears two weeks ago, he threw two in­ter­cep­tions and fin­ished with 262 yards, most of them cos­metic. Last week, in the same time slot, he led the Vik­ings to a 24-17 vic­tory over the Green Bay Pack­ers, throw­ing for 342 yards with three touch­downs — his best per­for­mance of the season, per­haps the best of his ca­reer.

The re­sults left the Vik­ings in a play­off race and their fans still wait­ing to mak­ing a judg­ment. Dan Bar­reiro, a sports talk host at KFAM 100.3 in Minneapolis, said the fan base re­mains “guarded.” Even af­ter Cousins’ bril­liance against Green Bay, Bar­reiro was sur­prised at how many fans he heard cred­it­ing team­mates for prop­ping up the quar­ter­back.

“If they’re not will­ing to give him a good grade on that game, then peo­ple are very ner­vous on what the Vik­ings have in­vested in,” Bar­reiro said.

Cousins de­fies easy eval­u­a­tion. Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus and ESPN’s QBR met­ric rate him the 12th-best quar­ter­back in the NFL. He ranks fifth in pass­ing yards and ninth in quar­ter­back rat­ing. He makes throws that are peer­less. He makes plays that ag­gra­vate, such as his seven in­ter­cep­tions and league-high eight fum­bles. He’s pre­cise, but some­times robotic — coach Mike Zim­mer met with him last week mul­ti­ple times to re­mind him he needed to scram­ble more of­ten to steal first downs.

Cousins has the ben­e­fit of Thie­len and Ste­fon Diggs, per­haps the NFL’s best wide­out com­bi­na­tion. But his pass block­ing ranks 31st, ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus, and Cousins has been one of the NFL’s best passers against pres­sure. Is he hav­ing a great season or a flawed one? Yes.

“It’s al­ways com­pli­cated,” Vik­ings quar­ter­backs coach Kevin Ste­fan­ski said. “There’s al­ways things in ev­ery game where you say he can do bet­ter. And there’s al­ways plays where you say, ‘That’s un­coach­able.’ He does some spe­cial things.”

Cousins’ con­tract places more scru­tiny on him. He says he ig­nores it. He craved or­der and com­pe­tence more than top dol­lar in free agency, so those who know Cousins, a deeply faith­ful man, be­lieve he’s un­fazed by ex­pec­ta­tions at­ten­dant to his salary.

“He doesn’t spend any­thing, so money is not im­por­tant,” said Tim Lont, Cousins’ high school coach at Hol­land Chris­tian in Michi­gan. “Truth­fully, he’s do­nat­ing all his money to char­i­ties.”

But Cousins’ self-image of a hard-work­ing over­achiever is at odds with how Vik­ings fans view him. To them, he is a fran­chise quar­ter­back brought to Min­ne­sota made wealthy to per­form like one of the NFL’s best quar­ter­backs and de­liver a Su­per Bowl.

By con­trast, last season, de­spite end­ing with a blowout loss in the NFC ti­tle game, was a joyride. Case Keenum re­lieved the in­jured Sam Brad­ford with ex­pec­ta­tions re­set to zero, and he car­ried to the season’s penul­ti­mate week­end with a free­wheel­ing style, cul­mi­nat­ing in a last-sec­ond, an­swered­prayer touch­down in a di­vi­sional round — the Min­ne­sota Mir­a­cle.

Last year, Keenum, a Texan un­fa­mil­iar with the Min­nesotan rit­ual of snow re­moval, ad­mit­ted to his neigh­bors af­ter one storm he had no clue what he was do­ing with a shovel. A tra­di­tion be­gan: Af­ter a snow­fall, Keenum’s neigh­bors would clear his drive­way, and the pho­tos spread on so­cial me­dia.

On Mon­day, Bar­reiro asked lis­ten­ers a ques­tion as means of com­par­i­son: How many inches of snow would you be will­ing to shovel off Kirk Cousins’ drive­way? The pre­vail­ing sen­ti­ment, Bar­reiro said, was, I’m not go­ing to shovel his drive­way. He can hire his own ser­vice. The man’s mak­ing $84 mil­lion.

“He’s teth­ered to the con­tract in a way that on that level fans are go­ing to view him dif­fer­ently than they did Keenum,” Bar­reiro said.

Cousins doesn’t shy away from his role.

“I’ve been raised to be­lieve priv­i­lege should lead to re­spon­si­bil­ity — in fact, to greater re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Cousins says. “The Bi­ble says in Luke 12:48, from ev­ery­one who has been given much, much will be de­manded. And from the one who has been en­trusted with much, much more will be asked.”

JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES FILE

Kirk Cousins is sacked by Chicago’s Akiem Hicks two weeks ago dur­ing the Bears’ win over the Min­ne­sota Vik­ings in Novem­ber at Sol­dier Field.

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