Kirk Cousins playing in the Vikings' meaningless 17th game — and enjoying a productive second half against the please-let-us-go-home Bears — didn't amount to much of anything in the grand scheme of things.
But it did allow him one more chance to put up some numbers — and to arrive at some season totals that looked very familiar upon closer inspection.
Final numbers for Cousins for the Vikings in 2021: 16 starts, 66.3% completion rate, 4,221 yards, 33 TD passes, 7 INTs, 8-8 record.
And by comparison ...
Final numbers for Brett Favre for the Vikings in 2009: 16 starts, 68.4% completion rate, 4,202 yards, 33 TD passes, 7 INTs, 12-4 record.
Identical starts, touchdowns and interceptions. Nearly identical yards. Similar completion percentages. One season is revered, the other the subject of much division — something I talked about on Thursday's Daily Delivery podcast.
Was Favre's version four wins better than Cousins' version? What sort of advanced stats and other forces help explain the answer to that question? I asked you that on Twitter, and you definitely delivered.
Some factors at play as we examine the two seasons:
*Inflation of passing game. While passing numbers were starting to explode 12 years ago, the NFL is even more of a passing league now. So Favre's numbers in 2009 mean a little more than Cousins' numbers in 2021.
*Defense was a big factor in team records. The 2009 Vikings weren't necessarily remembered for their defense, but they finished 10th in Football Outsiders' defensive DVOA, 10th in points allowed and No. 6 in yards allowed. This year's Vikings were No. 16 in DVOA, No. 24 in points allowed and No. 30 in yards allowed. It's fair to say, as many of you suggested, that Favre benefited from an above-average defense and that Cousins might have added another win or two with a better defense.
*Third down tells a big story. Favre's 2009 Vikings were No. 5 in the NFL in third down conversion rate, while Cousins' 2021 Vikings were tied for 25th. Some of that is circumstantial but some of it speaks to Favre's ability to read defenses and make big throws in high-leverage situations compared to Cousins.
*Look at the supporting cast on offense. Favre had a MUCH better offensive line to work with, playing behind the likes of Bryant McKinnie, Steve Hutchinson, John Sullivan, Anthony Herrera and Phil Loadholt. Pro Football Focus gave that group the fourth-best pass blocking grade of any team in the league in 2009. This year's Vikings finished No. 27 in that stat.
I'd say skill position players were a draw. Best three for each? 2009: Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin. 2021: Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen.
Given that, Cousins' 2021 stats become more impressive and it seems like his 8-8 mark is less about him.
*Luck played a role: The 2009 Vikings rarely played close games, but they pulled out two that they probably shouldn't have won — the miracle Greg Lewis catch against San Francisco and a win over Baltimore when the Ravens missed a very makeable field goal in the closing seconds of a two-point win. The 2021 Vikings rarely played a game that wasn't close, and they certainly could have won 1 or 2 more.
*Advanced stats: Here, though, is where we find a huge edge for Favre. ESPN's Total QBR metric had Favre No. 4 in the league that season (74.4) while Cousins was No. 15 this season (51.9). That speaks to the "when" of Favre's yards and TDs compared to Cousins and leads directly to the points they contributed above average to their teams.
*Impact beyond stats: Some of you simply replied that Favre is a "winner" while Cousins is not. While I think some of that is overblown, there is something to be said for the way Favre commanded a huddle.
Brad Childress has told me on multiple occasions that when Favre showed up in 2009, suddenly the offense looked like it was supposed to look and every player rallied around him.
Cousins' approach seems to be more of a "I just work here" mentality, which works fine when things are going well but tends to fall apart when other things break down.
Final analysis: Favre had a more impactful 2009 season and benefited from a better supporting cast on both sides of the ball. He probably deserved to be more like 11-5, and Cousins probably deserved to be more like 9-7, but there's still room in that gap to account for the difference in how their nearly identical stats were achieved.