GREEN BAY, Wis. – Sunday, two quarterbacks made Packer-approved fashion choices at Lambeau Field.
The first: During a ceremony honoring Bart Starr, Brett Favre wore cargo shorts, paying homage to the beer-and-brats ethic of his former home. In Favre’s defense, they were his formal cargo shorts. He probably wore them at his own wedding.
The second: Kirk Cousins wore a Vikings jersey, as if to embody the torment Packers fans have escaped by watching Favre and Aaron Rodgers play the position for the past 27 seasons.
A year ago, during Week 2 of his first season with the Vikings, Cousins led them on an inspired comeback at Lambeau Field to salvage a 29-29 tie. A year later, Cousins was asked to make a few simple throws and decisions. He failed.
Cousins completed 14 of 32 passes for 230 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions as the Vikings lost 21-16. He frequently threw over the heads of open receivers, but it was the pass he didn’t throw far enough that defined his day.
The Vikings took the ball at their own 40 with 10:08 remaining. They ran it three times for 16 yards, then Cousins scrambled for 6 and Cousins threw to Kyle Rudolph for 5 more.
Three more runs totaling 25 yards gave the Vikings a first-and-goal from the 8 with 5:17 remaining. Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski called for a play-action rollout.
The easy second guess will be that the Vikings should have kept running the ball. That would presume the offense should never throw a pass when it’s running well, which is silly.
Cousins rolled right and lofted a pass toward the back right corner of the end zone. Packers cornerback Kevin King wrestled it away for an interception and the Vikings wouldn’t threaten again.
Cousins should have thrown the ball away. Instead, an eight-year veteran signed to a record quarterback contract made a mistake that would make a rookie blush.
I thought Cousins was the right quarterback for the Vikings, given their available choices at the time — a deflated Case Keenum, a rehabilitating Teddy Bridgewater or the prospect of starting over with a drafted quarterback.
Sunday, Cousins offered the most compelling case to date that signing him was a mistake. He looked erratic and jittery. He missed wide-open receivers. And he threw that final interception, which is a résumé unto itself.
Cousins has been breaking hearts his entire NFL career, but in Washington he had binders filled with excuses: bad ownership, transient coaching, a dearth of star receivers and a team that looked hopeless before and after his time there.
In Minnesota, he was given a chance to lead a winning team, and he is 9-8-1, and his best moments came near the start of his first season. His play and the Vikings’ urgency hint he is regressing, or that the team overestimated him all along.
Sunday, on a day he would have liked to prompt comparisons to Favre and Rodgers, Cousins instead evoked memories of Christian Ponder.
In 2012, Ponder played well enough for a team with a powerhouse running game and strong defense to make the playoffs. In the 2013 opener at Detroit, he threw three horrific interceptions in a 34-24 loss. Anyone watching that game without bias knew Ponder was done. After the 2014 season, he never threw another NFL pass.
Unlike Ponder, Cousins has proved himself as an NFL passer. But he has not proved himself as an NFL winner, and as subjective as that label might be, you know one when you see one.
Cousins did not look like one at the end of last season, when he was screaming at Adam Thielen on the U.S. Bank Stadium sideline, and he did not look like one Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“I’m very disappointed in my performance today,” Cousins said. “It just wasn’t good enough … I’ll stand up here and take ownership of that.”
That was not the kind of accuracy the Vikings were looking for.