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Vikings look for QB Cousins to come up big
Two years ago, the Washington Redskins were 8-6-1 heading into the final week of the regular season with Kirk Cousins at quarterback and a playoff berth on the line.
History is repeating itself for Cousins, only this time with the Minnesota Vikings.
Minnesota is 8-6-1 as it hosts the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon. If the Vikings win, they will be in the playoffs. If they lose, they need help.
Washington lost 19-10 to the New York Giants two years ago and were out of the playoffs.
"I remember the feeling driving away from the game," Cousins said on Wednesday. "I remember being disappointed. I don't want to feel that again.
"It's not complicated. I want to win. We want to win. We understand what's at stake. There's no magic formula. There's no button you can push or hours you can put in to suddenly snap your fingers and guarantee a win. So, you do all you can, give everything you have."
This week's game is the reason Minnesota gave Cousins $84 million guaranteed to be the team's franchise quarterback, to come out on top of must-win games. Cousins' first season with the Vikings started quickly with him passing for big yardage totals and creeping toward team records.
Then the offense slipped at midseason and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was fired. Minnesota has won two in a row with Cousins and the offense - particularly the running game - making strides. Now, the Vikings have just what they wanted sitting right in front of them.
"For us, playoffs have already started," Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer said. "We know that we have to win this game in order to get into them. There has to be a heightened sense of energy and focus and study time. You have to make sure that your bodies are rested and understand it is going to be a physical football game on Sunday."
Chicago delivered a blow in the first meeting between the two teams, with the Bears' defense giving Cousins and the Vikings fits. Minnesota turned the ball over three times and trailed 22-6 before recovering in the fourth quarter in a 25-20 loss.
"I thought they kind of, what's the best way to say this ... they were dominating us for a long time," Zimmer said of the first game.
The installation of Kevin Stefanski as interim offensive coordinator and play-caller in place of DeFilippo has had the desired effect. Zimmer said he didn't want the season to be lost.
Minnesota scored a season-high 41 points against Miami in the first game under Stefanski and rushed for a season-high 220 yards. It had its fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season last week against Detroit, with no turnovers.
The Vikings' defense has allowed 416 yards total the past two games.
"It's been like that for a couple weeks now, honestly," defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said of the playoff-like feel. "We knew where we were at."
Fellow defensive tackle Linval Joseph added: "This is a playoff game. How you look at it, this could be our last game or we could go forward. At the end of the day, this is our first playoff game."
Rewind to two years ago, and Cousins came out on the wrong end of a win-or-go-home game. In the loss to the Giants, he threw for 287 yards on 22-of-35 passing. He had a touchdown pass but two interceptions.
Like he has all season, Cousins downplayed the "big game" angle to Sunday's matchup with the Bears. But he said his experiences have prepared him for Sunday.
"There will always be excitement, nerves, anxiety, butterflies, whatever you want to call it. It will always be there. This matters to me," Cousins said. "Frankly, I think when I have butterflies, I play a little better because it heightens your awareness and your attention to detail, and your sense of urgency. I've always felt that when I step on the field regardless of the game. Those will be there again Sunday afternoon. That's OK, that's part of the deal."
SERIES HISTORY: 115th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 60-52-2. Minnesota had won three in a row in the series before Chicago won at home in the first meeting this season. The Bears led 22-6 after Eddie Jackson intercepted Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins for a touchdown. Minnesota's offense finally got going, but it was too late. Cousins threw two interceptions and Dalvin Cook lost a fumble. Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky passed for 165 yards and ran for 43 yards.