1. Not perfect, but Cousins earning every penny
If y'all don't want $31 million Kirk Cousins, there's a 6-6-1 team in Pittsburgh that wouldn't mind kicking his tires as a possible replacement for $26 million Ben Roethlisberger in 2022. For the 15th time in 13 games, Cousins threw a touchdown pass to give his team the lead as the Vikings (6-7) went ahead 29-0 and held on to beat the Steelers 36-28 at U.S. Bank Stadium on Thursday night.
"If the Vikings didn't have the quarterback they have, things would look a lot worse," former Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "I know it's in vogue to want to criticize Kirk, but he's given them leads in every game. Too many times, it comes down to who has the ball last."
Eighteen of Cousins' 27 touchdown passes have either given his team the lead, tied the game or moved the Vikings within one score. He went 6-for-8 for 60 yards to force overtime in Week 1. He went 5-for-7 for 49 yards to give Greg Joseph a chance to beat the Cardinals with a 37-yard field goal as time expired. He set up the 54-yard field goal to beat the Lions. He threw the winning touchdown in overtime at Carolina. In the final 2 ½ minutes against Green Bay, he threw the go-ahead touchdown pass and set up the game-winning field goal. He threw two picks Thursday, but he also made it a two-score game with a 62-yard TD to K.J. Osborn when all heck was breaking loose late. He's not perfect, but he's done what you give guys $31 million to do.
2. This is why you don't fire Zimmer … yet
Things got ugly in the second half, per usual, but this is why you don't fire your coach in December with a chance to make the playoffs. Mike Zimmer is on the hottest NFL seat this side of Matt Nagy. Much of it is deserved. But no one can say his players have quit on him. And that's saying something for a team that is now 5-7 in one-score games. Zimmer won Round 1 in what NFL logic suggests was a five-week fight to save his head coaching career. But the 65-year-old Zim has a long way to go, starting with a trip to Chicago. Nagy is 5-1 against Zimmer. If Zimmer's team makes the playoffs, he should keep his job. If he doesn't, the Vikings probably need to move on.
3. Old man Roethlisberger just a 'one-read' QB
The 39-year-old Roethlisberger must have guzzled some Geritol at halftime. The Steelers also did a better job of protecting the old man. The Vikings sacked him four times in the first half and a fifth and final time early in the third quarter.
"Ben's always been a first-read guy," Childress said. "At this point in his career, if he can't get to his first read and you get him to move his feet, he's not very good."
Spot-on analysis of Big Ben's sitting-duck first half. Michael Pierce and Eric Kendricks set single-season highs in sacks with three and five, respectively.
4. K.J. Osborn helping Spielman's draft cred
Zimmer isn't the only fella in Purple who's on the hot seat. General Manager Rick Spielman could be a package deal if the Vikings choose to start over in 2022. Spielman has had his share of misses in personnel. But a former under-the-radar guy is helping boost Spielman's draft-day credibility.
Receiver K.J. Osborn, a fifth-round pick a year ago, stepped in for the injured Adam Thielen and rose to the occasion. Again. Osborn had the first third-down conversion, a 13-yarder on third-and-10. That led to a touchdown and a 23-0 cushion the Vikings certainly ended up needing. Osborn also got behind the Steelers' defense for a 62-yard touchdown and a two-score lead when everyone in the building was expecting the Vikings to blow their 29-0 lead.
5. Steel Tissue run defense sets tone early
Every Steeler defender from the 1970s "Steel Curtain" had to turn their eyes away from that horrendous "Steel Tissue" effort against the run. The Steelers came in with a league-worst 4.78 yards allowed per rush. The Vikings ran for 242 yards and a 6.7 average. Dalvin Cook's first seven carries averaged 16.7 yards. He had runs of 30, 29, 20, 16, 15 and 14 yards. Pathetic gap control and total lack of attention to the run gave Cook one of the easiest 205-yard, two-touchdown rushing games in NFL history.