Twin Cities media spends about 12 minutes every Wednesday forming a semicircle in front of Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Unlike game days of late, nothing spooks Kirk inside this pocket. He sidesteps any issue with grace, downplays all negative trends with ease and always anticipates the weekly “IS THIS A BIG GAME!?” blitz by calling himself a broken record for saying they’re all big games.
This week, the “big game” question needed more oomph. Twenty-four hours after John DeFilippo’s 306-day stint as new-school Vikings offensive coordinator ended when he was fired by coach Mike Zimmer, Sunday’s game against Miami at U.S. Bank Stadium suddenly felt more than just “big.”
It feels desperate. Like George Clooney begging his boat to ascend that giant wave. Like Judy Garland trying to open the cellar door with that twister bearing down. Like a ready-made Super Bowl contender with an $84 million quarterback trying to avoid going 6-7-1, surrendering its playoff fate to similar underachievers and staring at the possibility of more heads rolling alongside DeFilippo’s at season’s end.
So, Kirk, what say you? Does this week feel “desperate?!”
“I don’t think so,” he said. “We’re the sixth seed right now. If we win these next games, we’re in the playoffs. Every game counts as one. No more. No less. I don’t think we need to view it any differently.”
Yeah, under normal circumstances, we’d buy that. But the head coach just fired his offensive coordinator while sitting in that sixth seed. And replaced him with a quarterbacks coach, Kevin Stefanski, who’s never called a game.
The move feels desperate. Not saying it won’t work. Just saying the gamble makes Vikings headquarters feel like a place where job security could dwindle to people named Wilf and quarterbacks making $84 million win, lose or draw.
Settle down, says Zimmer. Asked Wednesday how this move will help the offense, Zimmer shrugged and said, “It may work. It may not.
“You get feelings and you trust your gut,” he added. “It’s no different from it’s fourth-and-8 and you got to call blitz. You meet it head on and you go.”
Comparing a firing to a fourth-and-8 play call is very Belichickian in its coldblooded assessment. But this is the NFL. If the roles were reversed and DeFilippo had felt Zimmer’s incompatibility was a threat to his own job security, old Zim would have been thrown overboard, too.
The desperate challenge now becomes reaching the playoffs and not exiting meekly in the first round. If that happens, important people named Wilf are going to want some explanation as to why this seemingly obvious incompatibility between two strong-willed men was not anticipated 11 months ago.
Meanwhile, Cousins was more warmhearted when talking about DeFilippo’s departure. He praised him as a coach, a person and someone who’s “head coaching material.”
Cousins also was rightfully apologetic considering his 16 turnovers and skittish pocket presence of late were some of the reasons DeFilippo became a free agent.
“One of the things I did communicate to Coach Flip [Tuesday] was I do believe if I had played to my fullest potential … we’re probably not having this conversation right now,” Cousins said. “That’s something I take personally. It’s tough for me and it keeps you up at night.”
Well said. Except he could have dropped the word “probably.”
Cousins then moved on, as he must do. He praised Stefanski. And so did Zimmer before adding delicately that he believes the QB-coordinator relationship will improve.
“I’m trying to figure out what’s the best way to say this,” Zimmer said. “I feel like Kirk will be open to suggesting things a little bit more.”
Tuesday, Zimmer said it would be in Stefanski’s best long-term interests for these next three weeks to work out. The same could be said for Zimmer. And he knows that.
“We still have everything that we need to do in front of us,” Zimmer said. “If we play the way we’re capable of playing, we have a chance to do what we need to do.”
The other side of that “if” is what gives this game a desperate feel.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL