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Monday Morning Mailbag: Cousins 4th-Quarter Heroics and Vikings Playoff Outlook

Do you have a comment or question? Send it to the Mailbag! Every Monday we'll post several comments and/or questions as part of the Monday Morning Mailbag. Although we can't post every comment or question, we will reply to every question submitted.

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Let's talk Kirk Cousins. Distributed the ball, getting even production in catches and yards from multiple targets. Used his legs to extend drives. Hated the fumble, but no question he was the better QB on Sunday. He has been playing extremely well overall lately.

— Jeff Kilty in Sacramento, California

We'll start this Mailbag with the starting quarterback, who had a great outing in Sunday's win. He completed 34 of 45 passes for 307 yards with three scores and no interceptions. He had a passer rating of 115.7, his fourth straight game above 100.

He absolutely was money down the stretch for the Vikings, completing 12 of 13 passes for 136 yards with two scores on the final two drives.

There was a lot of talk about Teddy Bridgewater's return to Minnesota this week, and rightfully so. But on Sunday, Cousins proved why the Vikings signed him back in 2018 and handed out a contract extension this offseason.

Yes, the fumble was a trouble spot as it was his second lost fumble in as many games. But he was blitzed on the play and didn't have much time to react. And the way he responded late was incredible.

Cousins had plenty of help — more on that in a second — but he played and delivered like a franchise quarterback in the final 10 minutes against the Panthers.

And with no Adam Thielen, perhaps his best attribute was simply spreading the ball around. Bisi Johnson (74 yards), Justin Jefferson (70 yards and 2 TDs), Kyle Rudolph (68 yards) and Chad Beebe (63 yards and a score) each had seven catches on Sunday.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, that was just the second time in NFL history for a team to have four players with seven or more catches and at least 60 yards apiece, joining New Orleans on Dec. 23, 2012.

Cousins has gotten hot just when the Vikings have needed it most, as Minnesota won four of five games in November. The quarterback was red-hot in that month, completing 105 of 145 passes (72.4 percent) for 1,293 yards with 12 touchdowns and just one interception (that bounced off Thielen's hands in Chicago).

We'll see how the final five games play out for the Vikings — and we'll get into playoff possibilities here shortly — but if Cousins keeps this up, perhaps Minnesota can make some noise down the stretch.

On any given Sunday! Two fumble returns allowed for touchdowns on offense … no quit. A muffed punt return … the defense held Carolina to a FG. Chad Beebe shook off that fumble with a TD grab. They could have quit but they fought on. This will help them moving forward.

— Gerald Goblirsch

Fire Zimmer. Trade Cousins.

— Terry Joyce

I included Terry's email, which came through during Sunday's dismal third quarter, because it highlights what a wild and weird season this has been for the Vikings.

View photo of Vikings WR Chad Beebe's first career touchdown against the Panthers in Week 12.

To recap, the Vikings start 1-5, and everyone writes them off. Then comes a three-game win streak and praise from the national pundits about being back on track.

Then, a bitter loss to Dallas where Minnesota's playoff hopes take a big hit again. But wait, a furious comeback win over the Panthers to keep the season alive and stay within one game of the NFC Wild Card race.

View game images as the Vikings take on the Carolina Panthers at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.

I covered this back in the Mailbag in September, when things were trending downward, but you always know that Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and his team are going to fight to the end. Zimmer is a gritty, old-school coach who hates to lose.

There's a few reasons why seven of Minnesota's 11 games have been decided by one score or less. The first is that the competitive balance feels as narrow as ever in the league, but the second is that Zimmer's squad is always going to battle until the final seconds … much like we saw Sunday.

So, where does it leave us with five games to go?

With the Vikings at 5-6, they are currently in eighth place and one game behind the 6-5 Cardinals, who have lost three of four.

Minnesota's main focus now is on a 1-10 Jacksonville team, while also rooting for Arizona to lose against the Los Angeles Rams next weekend.

If the Vikings can be 6-6 with four games to go, that sets up a potentially impactful final month of the season.

"Each week is week to week," Zimmer said after Sunday's win. "We've still got a lot of football left to play, still got a lot of good teams.

"We've just got to worry about ourselves and how we approach each week, how we have to do the things that we have to do and eliminate the mistakes that we made today," Zimmer added. "We made too many mistakes and we're very fortunate to win. "

Absolutely happy about the win today. It's all about play calling all season long on if we win or lose. As we saw in the fourth quarter, it is possible to win games, if we don't stick too much to the running game. Although Dalvin Cook is marvelous, to be committed to the run makes us predictable. We saw this in all the games we lost and over a long time in this game.

In my opinion, we don't need other players, except maybe some more improvement along the offensive line to go to the Super Bowl. We just need better play calling for the offense to surprise the opponent. To vary with passes at first or second down more often, gives room for the run.

I know Gary Kubiak is well-respected and his experience is huge. But do you maybe agree that he should think about the last quarter and modify his run-first attitude a little bit, and add some creativity? Thank you for answering all these questions with great patience. I like to read your comments … it's one of the main reasons I'm visiting the Vikings website regularly.

— Matthias from Bad Schwalbach, Germany

Lots to get to in Matthias' email, but I'll start with his question about Kubiak's run-first mentality. While that is Kubiak's mindset, it's also Zimmer's, and a big reason why the Vikings have a penchant for running the ball most of the game. It also helps to have Dalvin Cook in the backfield.

With that said, the Vikings had to flip the script in the fourth quarter. On the final two touchdown drives, Minnesota called 18 total plays, one of which was a weird sack where Cousins tripped after having his foot stepped on by a teammate.

The other 17 plays included just four run plays. So while the Vikings seemed to abandon their run-first approach, it was because they had to. Minnesota would much rather prefer to get an early lead and control the ball and the clock on the ground.

If you ask me, Kubiak has done a good job this year. He's relied on Cook a bit, but has also gotten Thielen and Jefferson involved plenty. It's a tough job, no doubt, to feed perhaps the league's best running back, while also spreading the ball around to those wide receivers, plus Rudolph and Irv Smith, Jr., when he's healthy.

If you want to nitpick play calling, however, perhaps Carolina's fourth-quarter selection bears mentioning. The Panthers had the lead for all but the final 46 seconds of the quarter and ran 18 plays before their final drive, which obviously required all passes. But on those first 18 plays of the fourth quarter, there were a whopping 14 pass plays.

As Zimmer said above, the Vikings were fortunate to win, and the Panthers late play calls likely had a small part in that.

But you take the wins however you can get them in the NFL, and Minnesota will do just that.

On to Jacksonville.


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