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How Does Kirk Cousins bounce back from bad games?

Last weekend in Indianapolis, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins recorded the very worst game of his life statistically. A talking point amongst many of “worst game as a Viking” has euphemistically segregated his performance to purple and gold clothing. In reality, he has never played as underwhelming as he did versus the Colts in his nine-year career, if the numbers are to be trusted.  

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Cousins authored a 15.9 passer rating inside last weekend’s box score, and there is no way to fancy up his afternoon. It was poor no matter the circumstance. In fact, it was one of the worst passer ratings notched by an NFL quarterback since 2017. Only Baker Mayfield, Joe Flacco, Sam Darnold, and Marcus Mariota have finished games with a passer rating lower than Cousins’ Colts output in the last three years.

Erstwhile, the Vikings inarguably need a spark and a return to competence to salvage the 2020 season. The immediate and long-term future of the franchise becomes topsy-turvy if Minnesota falls to 0-3 against the Tennessee Titans. 

As leader of the offense, that will start with Cousins. The Titans secondary, like the Vikings, is plagued by injury. Cousins and Tannehill should both, in theory, have a more relaxed experience this Sunday distributing the football to pass-catchers. 

We know Cousins’ showing versus Indianapolis was about as bad as he can play. How does he historically follow up terrible outings? 

For some context, Cousins became a full-time starter in 2015 with the Washington Football Team. One of his worst career games occurred in a Week 17 contest against the New York Giants in 2017. And, it’s not a fair barometer to adjudicate his first game as a Viking – nine months later – as evidence. 

Here are the others, in order of ascending passer rating.

2019, Week 2 at Green Bay Packers (Passer Rating = 52.9)

This was the game that Stefon Diggs took off his helmet after a touchdown and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Cousins was woefully inaccurate (14 for 32) in this matchup and tossed a deadly interception late in the fourth quarter thus solidifying a Packers victory. 

The following game was much more profitable for Cousins and the Vikings. Minnesota returned home to U.S. Bank Stadium and battered the Oakland Raiders in Week 3. Cousins found Thielen very early in the first quarter for a 35-yard touchdown. It was a pace-setter, and the Vikings never looked back. Cousins only had to throw it 21 times against the Raiders and tabulated 174 yards and that one touchdown. 

Cousins was not sacked, and the Vikings bounced back to a 2-1 record.

Bounceback Passer Rating = 112.0

2015, Week 6 at New York Jets (Passer Rating = 57.9)

Cousins and the Washington Football Team entered this contestwith a 2-3 record while the upstart Jets were 3-1 led by Ryan Fitzpatrick. There was more magic than tragic for the Jets signal-caller on this October afternoon as New York spanked Washington, 34-20.

Cousins was not on-point and tossed two interceptions to accompany just one touchdown and a 58 percent completion ratio. His passer rating was the aforementioned 57.9, and Washington sunk to 2-4 for the 2015 campaign. 

Low and behold, the next week was a total turnaround. Interestingly, this was Cousins’ “YOU LIKE THAT GAME,” and Washington navigated from a deficit to stun the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 31-30. His antics in that game are more attributable to the postgame quote, but on the whole, Cousins passed for 317, three touchdowns and no picks.

Bounceback Passer Rating = 124.7

2019, Week 16 vs. Green Bay Packers (Passer Rating = 58.8)

In this home game, the Vikings had a real chance to contend for the NFC North. And, it was Monday Night Football. Minnesota was lifeless, and a wildcard road game would be the consequence. Cousins completed just 52 percent of his passes, threw one score and interception apiece, and was sacked five times. This was also the game that Mike Boone was supposed to get his chance to run roughshod over the Packers. He didn’t.

As for the bounceback, the Vikings rested all starters in Week 17 against the Bears. Cousins’ next meaningful game was in the playoffs versus the New Orleans Saints.

The Vikings made the most of it. Cousins was marvelous down the stretch, and the defense made just enough plays to set up the offense for late-game theatrics. From there, Cousins found Adam Thielen in overtime and Kyle Rudolph for the walk-off touchdown pass.

Bounceback Passer Rating = 96.4

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