So, Kirk Cousins was asked, what now?

What comes after you've officially fallen short of the playoffs for the second time in three years as Vikings quarterback? What comes after you've clinched Mike Zimmer's second losing season in seven swings as Vikings coach? What comes after your defense was utterly humiliated in record fashion for all the world to see on Christmas Day?

Kirk, for one, is channeling his inner Belichick. He's on to Detroit.

"Just get ready for Detroit, try to finish the season strong, put your best foot forward," he said after Friday's 52-33 loss at New Orleans.

That's fine just so long as Dalvin Cook's feet aren't involved in any way.

The best way to bury this injury-riddled, pandemic-hampered mess of a 2020 season is to make darn sure the face of the franchise doesn't start 2021 needing surgery and a lengthy rehab that threatens the few prime years the 25-year-old has left at running back.

Sit him.

Cook made it through the heaviest nine-week workload of his career in All-Pro-caliber fashion. The view from here was nothing but applause and an "about time" when the Vikings turned a 1-5 record into 6-6 by feeding their best player 30.3 touches a game as he set career highs three times in six weeks.

But now there's nothing to be gained by playing Cook next Sunday. Nothing but individual stats and one coaching victory to create the illusion that 7-9 is really any better than 6-10 when both fall short of the largest playoff field in NFL history.

Zimmer deserves an eighth season whether he finishes 7-9 or 6-10. Final judgment on him shouldn't hinge on a bizarre season that had no OTAs, no preseason, no home crowds and no normalcy from the day prized free agent Michael Pierce took the COVID-19 opt-out to Friday night when undrafted rookie Blake Lynch became the team's seventh starting linebacker despite having played only one defensive snap all year.

"We've got to get [Danielle] Hunter back, we've got to get Pierce here, we've got to get [Anthony] Barr, [Eric] Kendricks, Pro Bowl players, good players that we have, they need to be back," Zimmer said. "I'm not trying to make excuses. It was embarrassing [Friday]. [But] we're missing four defensive linemen, we're missing a safety, we're missing three corners, we're missing six linebackers, I believe, from where we started. We're just a little undermanned."

Take out linebacker Eric Wilson and safeties Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris and Friday looked like a preseason game for the Vikings defense.

They should treat the season finale like an actual preseason game. Heck, sit all the veteran starters whose jobs are safe in 2021.

Cousins has never missed a game because of injury in six years as a starter. But sit him and get a head start on Ezra Cleveland's move to left tackle. After all, who knows when the pandemic will allow another on-field experience for the promising young lineman.

But first and foremost, sit Dalvin. He's had a history of injuries, he plays the position with the shortest average shelf life in all of sports and his only speed is full-throttle with little regard for his body.

"I believe that with the number of young players we have playing [this year] it bodes well for the future," Cousins said. "I think there's a lot to be encouraged about there. We'll do all we can against Detroit, and then you don't really turn the page and look forward until after that game."

Wrong. The last page of this 2020 season was ripped out and stomped on by the Saints on Christmas Day.

The 2021 season starts by handing Cook a baseball cap to wear next Sunday at Ford Field.

Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL E-mail: