The Vikings missed Dalvin Cook on Monday night.
They missed Kirk Cousins even more.
The Kirk Cousins who played efficiently and sometimes spectacularly since the end of September did not show up for “Monday Night Football” against the Packers. In his place stood Quirk Cousins, master of the bounce pass.
He was almost as bad as a receiver as he was as a quarterback, pratfalling on a third-down route on a trick play that shouldn’t have been necessary.
Cousins’ reputation had previously been soiled by his prime-time performances, some of which could have been excused because he was playing for the laughingstock NFL franchise in Washington.
This was not that. This was Cousins leading a superior roster for a team that was undefeated at U.S. Bank Stadium and enjoying a stunning run of defensive success.
To win this game, all the Vikings needed was competent quarterback play. They didn’t get it, and unless Cousins can change the way he plays in important games, what happened on Monday night will be remembered as a badly imagined prequel to another playoff failure.
If your quarterback can’t lead in a big game, you’d better learn to be happy with the NFL’s consolation prizes — second place in a four-team division and the last of six NFC seeds.
Asked if Cousins looked shaky early in the game, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said: “You know, it’s hard for me to tell when I’m standing on the sideline. I’ll look at the tape and let you know.’’
No, he won’t.
Asked if he was surprised by Cousins’ erratic play, Zimmer said: “I’m not going to get into this ‘Kirk Cousins on Monday night’ thing. Offensively, we didn’t play as well as we could play, I’ll say that. And defensively, we could have played the run better. So there are a lot of things we need to clean up.’’
Cousins is now 0-9 on Monday nights as an NFL quarterback. That statistic can be explained away only if you didn’t watch him short-arm passes in the first quarter on this Monday night.
This season Cousins has staged a comeback against the Broncos, has beaten the Lions twice, has thrown beautiful passes against the Giants and Raiders.
This year, while leading a quality roster, he has played three games against threatening divisional opponents. He is 0-3, and his play led to all three losses.
He threw a killing, unforced interception at Green Bay in September. He looked overwhelmed against a Bears team that went in the tank as soon as the Vikings left town. And Monday, he put up numbers that would have gotten most Vikings quarterbacks — at least those without guaranteed contracts, or with promising backups — benched.
His final stat line on Monday: 16 completions on 31 attempts, 122 yards, one touchdown, one interception and five sacks. The Vikings amassed 139 yards and seven first downs, less than they would expect in a normal half.
With Cook out with dual shoulder injuries, the Vikings tried to run the ball with Mike Boone, and went nowhere. Suddenly Cousins wasn’t throwing play-action passes against tentative defenses. He would have to beat the Packers with accuracy and nerve. He lacked both.
“We’ve got to go back and look at how and why, and certainly the answers to those questions should be of some help to us going forward,’’ Cousins said.
Most NFL players after most losses speak this way: As if a little more time watching video will make all the difference. But if Cousins’ problem is an inability to perform under duress, study won’t help.
If Cousins is the Vikings’ problem in big games, their problem is incurable. Vikings fans seemed to sense that.
With the Packers ahead 23-10 with less than six minutes remaining in the game, Cousins bounced a throw to Ameer Abdullah, and boos began to rain. The boos grew louder when Zimmer decided to punt rather than going for a first down on fourth-and-24 with less than four minutes remaining.
Zimmer made the right decision. Nobody, at that point, wanted to see another Cousins pass.