Dungy: Kirk Cousins Facing “Referendum”
The 7-3 Vikings have six games remaining and appear likely to earn their way into the playoffs. There will be a number of storylines in the weeks ahead but among individual players none is likely to be more compelling than the play of quarterback Kirk Cousins. Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy, now a pro football analyst for NBC TV, is tossing a challenge at the $84 million leader of the Vikings offense.
Speaking on KFAN Radio last week with program host Dan Barreiro, Dungy predicted the weeks ahead will define the reputation of Minnesota’s 31-year-old quarterback who was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month for his successful October that included 10 touchdown passes and a QB rating of 137.1.
“I like Kirk Cousins a lot, and I think he’s tremendous,” Dungy said. “I think he is a great leader but this is going to be the referendum (the weeks ahead). This is when he’s going to have to do it, against the Packers, against the Cowboys, in these big games. We know he’s capable of doing it. We saw it through the month of October but now can you do it in November and December against the really good teams? And that’s where the jury is still out on him.”
The Vikings earned a meaningful road win against a winning team last Sunday when they defeated the Cowboys, 28-24. Dungy predicted last Thursday the game would be a “measuring stick” for Cousins, playing against a solid team using a stop the run defense and inviting him to throw the ball about 35 times. Dungy, the former Gophers quarterback and Vikings assistant coach, was almost spot-on with Cousins throwing 32 times, and completing 23 passes including two that went for touchdowns.
Cousins came to Minneapolis in the 2018 offseason with a well-known reputation for not leading his former team, the Redskins, to victories over clubs with winning records. The chorus of critics grew louder last season when the Vikings, viewed during preseason as a Super Bowl contender, didn’t make it to the playoffs.
This season the Vikings have played five teams who now have winning records. They have defeated the Cowboys, Eagles, and Raiders while losing road games to the Chiefs and Packers. On the schedule ahead only the Seahawks and Packers (rematch game December 23 in Minneapolis) have winning records among remaining opponents.
Cousins has a 112 passer rating that is third best in the NFL. He has no turnovers in his last four games, the longest such stretch of his career. When he has faltered in the past, including against winning teams, he has looked indecisive. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer acknowledged the change in his quarterback. “Yeah, he’s playing fast, and that’s probably the most important thing,” Zimmer said. “Making good decisions and playing fast.”
The right decisions are everything in the NFL where final margins of victory are often so close. Eleven of the 13 most recent league games were separated by one possession (eight points or fewer). In 36 games this season, a team has won or tied after trailing in the fourth quarter.
Golden Gophers Football Notes
It would be fitting if the weather was stormy for Saturday’s game in Iowa City when the Gophers and Hawkeyes play. Temperatures will be in the low 40s with precipitation unlikely, but that doesn’t change the colorful and at times contentious history of the Minnesota-Iowa rivalry.
In the spring of 2017 Iowa assistant coach Brian Ferentz said it appeared the Gophers were extending so many offers to high school prospects they couldn’t come close to honoring them. Ferentz’s comments came on a Des Moines Register podcast. It’s unusual for one school to call out another that way.
In 2002 Hawkeye fans stormed the field at the Metrodome after a Hawkeye win. Fans tore down a goal post and tried to take part of it through the Metrodome revolving doors but space was too limited to accomplish the mission.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz coached in that game and is still leading the Hawkeyes. “I do have a good friend that still thinks that’s the greatest thing he ever saw in sports,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “He saw it on TV, and he also said, your fans aren’t very smart, they’re not going to get that thing through a revolving door. But he still talks about that.”
Tensions between players and fans from both Iowa and Minnesota prompted creation of Floyd of Rosedale. At the suggestion of Minnesota governor Floyd Olson, the bronze pig was created in the 1930s to put the focus on the rivalry trophy instead of the bad feelings between the two states.
Creative Charters emailed that their motorcoach group will be stopping Friday in Floyd, Iowa at Dugan’s Restaurant and Tavern on the way to Iowa City. The mayor of Floyd and city council members have been invited to lunch with the Minnesotans.
“With the Floyd of Rosedale trophy on the line, it only makes sense to stop in Floyd” said Steve Erban, Creative Charters, “We haven’t won in Iowa since 1999. The Travelin’ Gophers need to pull out every stop.”
With a win Saturday, Iowa can move within one victory of tying the Floyd of Rosedale series since it began in 1935. The Hawks have won six of the last seven games but Minnesota still leads the series 42-40, with two ties.
For Gophers fans, that’s close enough for the Hawkeyes in moving ahead in the series. That could become a social media message this week, tossed in with more than a few “We hate Iowa” postings.
The Gophers’ recent woes in the series have come despite the annual ritual of Darrell Thompson consuming large amounts of bacon. During Iowa week Thompson, the Gophers all-time leading rushing leader, enjoys his bacon.
“Every day, my man,” Thompson told Sports Headliners Wednesday. “I had bacon pie this morning. My wife made me this phenomenal bacon pie.”
The pie has a pecan crust and includes eggs, onions, peppers, cheese, and of course, bacon. Thompson put away two pieces, and wrote about the pie on Twitter.
What about the four-game losing streak against Iowa, despite Thompson’s bacon ritual? “That’s why I am eating more bacon this year,” he said. “I’ve increased it. Yesterday (Tuesday) I had two side orders of bacon. I didn’t think I was eating quite enough. Sometimes more makes things better.”
The Gophers go into Saturday’s game 9-0 overall and 6-0 in Big Ten games, with Iowa at 6-3 and 3-3. Minnesota’s most recent win, coming last Saturday in an upset over then No. 5 nationally ranked Penn State, attracted 6,736,000 viewers on ABC TV, according to Sports Media. It was the network’s largest college football audience in three years for a noon (eastern time) game.