Kirk Cousins, wearing a grin, grabbed Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s sweatshirt and shoved. Zimmer pushed back, then smiled before a security guard enveloped him as if Zimmer were being attacked by a rabid bear.
The Vikings had just pulled off a victory made miraculous by their own ineptitude, and now Cousins and Zimmer were feeding raw video evidence of … something … to the trolls, critics, haters, wonderers, observers, analysts and worriers who have regarded this Vikings season as something ticking ominously in an unmarked duffel bag in the corner.
The Vikings needed to win in the worst way, and they did. They played poorly enough at home to lose to the worst team in the NFL not saddled with Urban Meyer in a game that could have taken them out of playoff contention.
They blew a 10-point lead and survived a ridiculous late-game fumble to salvage a 19-17 victory on Greg Joseph’s 54-yard field goal as time expired, leading to Cousins and Zimmer proving … something.
— Syd Casper (@CasperSyd) October 10, 2021
Cousins said they were just celebrating, and there is no evidence to the contrary. Given everything that has happened to the Vikings over the past two months, it was a typically strange, odd, fraught, awkward snapshot of a team that, even in victory, feels like it’s teetering like a semi on two wheels.
Can you picture any other veteran NFL quarterback even playfully roughing up his 65-year-old head coach on the sideline in a way that caused a security guard to react? “I was just fired up,” Cousins said.
Cousins could have been teasing Zimmer, telling him that the coach should trust the offense more — unlike when Zimmer had the offense run out the clock at the end of the first half, showing little faith in the passing game.
In training camp, the two were at odds because of Cousins’ unwillingness to get vaccinated against COVID-19. They also have begun watching more game film together. So Cousins’ playfulness could have been reflecting a new dimension in their relationship.
That would conflict with the tone of the postgame news conferences. Almost every strategic question asked of a player led to a version of this response:
“Whatever play call we get, we’ve got to make the most of it.”
Receiver Adam Thielen said that, and every other player who took the podium said something almost identical. Which sounded like players saying they wish they had better direction.
The Vikings have invested heavily in their offensive skill positions, and they are breaking in a new offensive coordinator, Klint Kubiak, when there are jobs on the line.
“I mean, coaches are going to decide what to do and we’re going to go with it,” Cousins said. “We trust them and that’s their call.”
They might need new calls. They have scored one touchdown in each of the past two games, both played at home, and if Joseph’s kick hadn’t gone through, the Vikings would have lost both to destroy their playoff chances.
Zimmer looks skittish about letting Cousins throw the ball at the end of first halves, yet throwing the ball with urgency at the end of regulation won the game.
The Vikings celebrated on the field, but in postgame news conferences, they sounded more relieved than triumphant.
“It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, but it was a win and we’ll take it,” Zimmer said. “Proud of the way our guys fought. Not particularly proud of the way we played, though.”
The Vikings let the Lions gain 4.5 yards per carry. After Alexander Mattison’s fumble gave Detroit the ball at the Vikings 20 with 1:56 remaining, the Lions scored in three plays. A two-point conversion left the Vikings behind by a point with 37 seconds left.
That provided the Lions just enough time to remember that they are the Lions. They let Cousins execute an easy hurry-up drive, then Joseph defied the ghosts of Vikings kickers past, and then Cousins and Zimmer tussled. It probably meant nothing, but with this team you have to file every odd moment in the “Vikings dysfunction folder” — right next to The Original Whizzinator, the Hardee’s drive-through and the 12th Man in the Huddle.
When your season is on the brink and you need fourth-quarter field goals of 55 and 54 yards to beat the winless Lions, it’s hard to say how you should react.
Sunday, the Vikings settled for relief, playfulness and maximum awkwardness.