The Minnesota Vikings were in primetime last night and had a top-tier opportunity to steal a win from a shorthanded NFC North contender. Dak Prescott was declared out before Sunday night's affair, thrusting the entirely untested Cooper Rush into the spotlight. Dallas did not seem perturbed by that, perhaps in part because they were 5-1 heading into the night. It wasn't a must-win game for the Cowboys.
It was for the Vikings, though. Sitting at 3-3 with a couple of absolute stinkers on the record already, Minnesota really needed a win to keep the season afloat and make yet another playoff push with their dangerous offensive core. The fact that Prescott had to sit with his calf injury seemed a gift from the football gods. And yet, the Vikings could not take advantage. All of Kirk Cousins' well-known flaws were once again on full display. The defense, which is supposed to be the strongest unit under Mike Zimmer, let Rush walk down the field and score a game-winning touchdown with under a minute to play.
Cousins finished with 184 yards and one touchdown on 23 completions, which is almost impossible to do, and yet he did it. The defense let Rush throw for 325 yards on 24 completions in his first NFL start of his career. The Vikings are now 3-4. The season is far from over, but a loss like that kills any and all momentum.
It's just another reminder to everyone that the Vikings' current core cannot win, and it's far past time for the team to blow this whole thing up.
Unfortunately, that will not be an easy task. Thanks to the two-year extension Cousins signed in 2020, Minnesota can't get rid of the quarterback without facing a dead-cap hit of an absurd $45 million. That is $13 million more than Carson Wentz's record-high cap hit the Eagles had to absorb after trading him to the Colts. But the deconstruction of this team does not need to be in line with the end of Cousins' contract.
The front office that signed Cousins to that extension has been terrible over the last few years outside of the Justin Jefferson pick. Their other 2020 first-round pick, Jeff Gladney, is off the team entirely after he was indicted for domestic violence. They have consistently failed to address the offensive line after nearly a decade of utter incompetency from that position group. Zimmer needs a very specific type of cornerback to run his defense and the Vikings simply have not been able to make that happen, which is part of the reason why Zimmer's secondary ranks 18th in pass yards given up per game this season and have ranked outside the top-10 in that metric for the last three years.
This is an offensive powerhouse of a football team coached by a defensive-minded head coach. There are significant holes in the roster that have been there for years and simply haven't been fixed. No front office is perfect and there will be misses, but having the same issues season after season signifies a bigger problem than getting unlucky in the draft.
There is no easy avenue to blow it all up. But the Vikings have to do it sooner rather than later. This is a football team that tops out as a Wild Card team at best, and they don't have a quarterback who could get hot enough for a stretch of games to make something happen, especially not in the postseason. We all know exactly who Cousins is as a signal-caller at this point, but the Vikings apparently do not since they consistently fail to protect him or craft gameplans that cover his weaknesses and accentuate his strengths.
The Vikings are a medicore team. That has been their identity under Zimmer for years and will stay their identity as long as Cousins and Zimmer are the two most important people in the franchise. There isn't anything wrong with being an average NFL team, necessarily. It's not the NBA, where the two options are title contender or tanking because the only way to acquire a championship-level team is through high draft picks. But there comes a time when a football team hits its ceiling and can go no further. That is when it's time to reconfigure the team on the fly and see how aggressive they have to be to raise that ceiling.
Minnesota passed that point long ago. The time is now to fire Zimmer and see if they can't convince somebody to take on Cousins' contract, or at least some of it. Because otherwise, last night is exactly what everyone will see for the foreseeable future: a team that should be better, but isn't.