EAGAN, Minn. – It’s all come down to this.
The Vikings have four games left of the 2018 regular season, and they’re in the hunt for a playoff spot.
If the postseason began this week, the Vikings would be the No. 6 seed in the NFC Playoffs.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins spoke to Twin Cities media members Thursday and was asked about the implications of the upcoming Monday Night Football game at Seattle. Rather than emphasizing the significance of Seattle, Cousins took a step back and pointed out the magnitude of the remaining slate.
“We’re in if it ended today. Which means all the work we did throughout OTAs, training camp, preseason, regular season, it comes down to four games. And it comes down to the other teams that are in the hunt, the other teams that are fighting for their division title, whoever has the best four-game stretch,” Cousins said. “It doesn’t really matter what happened before; if a team goes 4-0 or 3-1, they’re probably going to be in. And the teams that go 2-2, no matter what they did before … probably won’t.
“It’s a four-game season,” Cousins continued. “I think the math would suggest that 4-0 puts you in the playoffs, 4-0 gets you a chance to win the division, 4-0 would be preferred, but I think 3-1, the math may still get you in.”
Cousins said what matters most is that the Vikings can look back at the end of December and say, of the teams that were battling, “we had the best run.”
“That’s what it’s all about,” Cousins said. “The stretch for us starts in Seattle on Monday Night, it’s a tremendous challenge, and I’m really excited to see this team perform over this four-game stretch.”
Here are four other topics Cousins talked about during his media availability:
1. Hoping to hit their stride
Taking into consideration Cousins’ “four-game season” approach, the quarterback responded to a question about the team hitting “another gear” down the stretch.
Cousins said he wouldn’t use that wording because it implies that the Vikings hadn’t been playing at full throttle to this point – and he doesn’t believe that’s the case.
“But to say, ‘Can we catch fire? Can we hit our stride, can we be more consistent? Can we start achieving at our potential more consistently?’ Yes. I think that’s what we’re looking to do,” Cousins said. “I do think we can point to some times throughout the year where we under-achieved – not because we weren’t giving effort or preparation but because we haven’t been able to sustain the level of production in this locker room play-in and play-out.
“And I think that’s what we’re challenging ourselves to do in this final stretch of four games, is bring your absolute best to the table, fulfill your potential every play, every game, and if we do that, let’s see where we are at the end of the month,” he added.
2. Part of a ‘good locker room’
In order to find their groove and play consistently, the Vikings will need all its players to share a team-first mentality.
Fortunately, believes that’s one of the things that makes Minnesota’s locker room special.
Cousins acknowledged that wide receiver Adam Thielen is an unselfish player who doesn’t focus on stats, despite his numbers being quite impressive this season. But he followed that up by explaining that it wouldn’t be an accurate representation to say that Thielen is the only player like that on the team.
“Diggsy (Stefon Diggs) doesn’t [focus on his stats], Kyle [Rudolph] doesn’t do that, Dalvin [Cook] doesn’t do that. I just could go on and on, and I would say the same about other units and other players because these guys just want to win,” Cousins said. “They don’t have agendas. They don’t care how we go about winning, and that makes it so fun to play with them, to quarterback the team, and that’s why when I say we have a good locker room and I like our group, that’s one of the reasons.”
3. Respect for Rudolph
The Vikings on Tuesday announced that Rudolph is their 2018 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee.
Rudolph as made an incredible off-field impact over his seven-plus seasons with the Vikings, and he also has garnered a great respect for his football performance.
Cousins was asked what he’s learned about the skill set of Rudolph, who made his 100th career start – and 61st consecutive – against the Patriots.
“I just go back to his hands. He’s also a very smart football player – those are probably the two traits that stand out, his intelligence, his awareness, and then also the quality of hands,” Cousins said. “I mean, when the ball’s in his general direction, he catches it, he brings it in one way or another, makes the tough catch. That’s a trait that I really appreciate, and he’s proven it time and time again. So I’m excited to just continue to put the ball in his general area and let him bring it in.”
4. Recalling last season’s comeback
When Cousins quarterbacked the Redskins last season, he led a come-from-behind victory at Seattle.
Washington trailed 14-10 and received the ball with 1:34 remaining. Cousins found Brian Quick on second down for a 31-yard play. On the following snap, he connected with Josh Doctson for 38 yards to get to the Seahawks 1.
Robert Kelley rushed for the 1-yard score on the following play, and the Redskins took the lead and held onto it.
Cousins’ biggest takeaway when thinking back to that day, however, doesn’t seem to be the 35-second drive down the field but rather Seattle’s tenacity in trying to come back.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson got the ball with 59 seconds left on the clock and got to the Redskins 46-yard line. He took one shot down the field, and time ran out during a Hail Mary that landed incomplete.
“I remember it being a tough game, hard-fought, back and forth,” Cousins said. “Our defense played really well and kept us in the game, and then we just made enough plays there at the very end to be able to come out with a win.
“It was amazing how they also kept fighting back, and even when we scored with even a few seconds left, they still got the ball to midfield and had a chance at a Hail Mary,” Cousins added. “That team with Russell as the quarterback is always in it, and no lead is safe against them.”