EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — When the Minnesota Vikings went all-in on Kirk Cousins as their long-sought franchise player last spring, they paired him with a new offensive coordinator considered to be part of the current wave of up-and-coming quarterback developers and innovative play-callers putting a strong imprint on the NFL.
The partnership with John DeFilippo that had so much potential lasted nine months.
Cousins and his Vikings teammates were doused this week with the cold shower of coach Mike Zimmer’s decision to fire DeFilippo after just 13 regular-season games, the latest dose of the reality of this cutthroat league as well as a sobering reminder that their lagging performance ultimately cost him the job.
“It’s the hard part of this business, and it was tough news,” Cousins said before practice on Wednesday. “I hate seeing it happen.”
Pro football’s furnace of fan-driven angst over a struggling offense had been directed over the past month toward DeFilippo and his in-game decision-making, with Zimmer’s public second-guessing of the play-calling only adding to the heat.
Cousins, in the first season of his fully guaranteed, three-year, $84 million contract, joined DeFilippo over the past month on the firing line.
The Vikings (6-6-1) have lost three of their past four games, with Cousins posting three of his five lowest passer ratings in those games, all on the road against postseason-bound teams.
“One of the things I did communicate to coach Flip yesterday was, ‘I believe with the ball in my hand, had I played at my fullest potential play-in and play-out, we’re probably not having this conversation right now,'” Cousins said.
“That’s something I take personally and is certainly tough for me and keeps you up at night. But at the same time, all you can do now is go forward.”
Cousins complimented DeFilippo for his “very classy and very gracious” conversation with him on Tuesday after the dismissal.
“I have a lot of respect for him as a coach. I have a lot of respect for him as a person. And I believe that his best days in this league are ahead of him,” Cousins said. “I think he’s a very good coach, and I think he’ll be a coordinator again. I think he’s head coach material, as well.”
Zimmer made the move about 12 hours after Minnesota’s 21-7 loss at Seattle on Monday, when the offense didn’t score until 70 seconds remained in the game.
With the Vikings still, somehow, in control of the second wild-card spot in the top-heavy NFC, Zimmer decided to fire DeFilippo and make quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski the offensive coordinator for the remainder of the season in a last-ditch attempt to create a spark for a sputtering unit.
“It may work. It may not work. You get feelings and you trust your gut,” Zimmer said. “It’s no different than, it’s fourth-and-8, you’ve got to call the blitz, you meet it head on, and you go. Now are we going to talk about Miami? Or are we going to keep talking about this?”
Ah, yes, the Dolphins (7-6), who are due in Minnesota on Sunday afternoon. They’re tied for third in the NFL with 25 takeaways, a dangerous trend for Cousins and his 16 turnovers that are tied with New York Jets rookie Sam Darnold for the most in the league.
“I’d be the first one to say if I had played at a higher level, we’re probably not talking about the things we’re talking about,” Cousins said.