In Drew Brees, Vikings will face (again) maybe the best to play the game
EAGAN, Minn. -- The Vikings feel like they got their franchise quarterback, the guy who can finally lead them back to the Super Bowl, when they signed Kirk Cousins in March -- and he's been just about everything they could have hoped for.
EAGAN, Minn. - The Vikings feel like they got their franchise quarterback, the guy who can finally lead them back to the Super Bowl, when they signed Kirk Cousins in March - and he’s been just about everything they could have hoped for.
After seven games in purple, Cousins is completing 70 percent of his passes, leads the NFL with 210 completions, ranks third in passing yardage (2,162) and has thrown 14 touchdowns against three interceptions. More important, the Vikings (4-2-1) lead the NFC North heading into the Sunday night, Oct. 28, game against NFC South leader New Orleans (5-1) at U.S. Bank Stadium.
But Cousins and the Vikings will be facing one of the best quarterbacks to play the game in the Saints’ Drew Brees. Stopping him, or simply outscoring him, will be difficult.
Brees, 39, leads the NFL in five categories: passer rating (121.6), completion percentage (77.3), interceptions (0), game-winning drives (3) and comebacks (3).
Asked what stands out most about Brees, Cousins said, “When you’re as good as he is, there’s not one thing. I mean, if there was one thing, he wouldn’t be the hall of famer he is.”
Last Sunday in Baltimore, the Saints rallied from a 14-point deficit with 17 fourth-quarter points in a 24-23 victory over the Ravens.
“He’s got real good vision and understanding of where the holes might be available for receivers. There’s a clock in his head. He’s confident,” said Sean Payton, Brees’ head coach for all 12 of his seasons in New Orleans. “Part of confidence comes from demonstrated ability.”
The Vikings got a glimpse of that last January, when Brees rallied the Saints from a 17-0 first-half deficit to take a 24-23 lead on Wil Lutz’s 43-yard field goal with 25 seconds remaining. It took a miracle for the Vikings to survive, a 61-yard pass from Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs that won the game as time expired.
The Saints outscored the Vikings 17-6 in the fourth quarter.
“I think as the game goes on, he gets a much better feel at what the defense is trying to do throughout the course of the ballgame with him,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “And a guy like him … he’s seen everything, anyway, and so many different looks that he can decipher things quickly. That’s part of it.”
After beating the Vikings in the 2009 NFC Championship Game - in overtime, naturally - Brees led the Saints to their only Super Bowl victory, three years after he was let go by San Diego in the wake of a catastrophic shoulder injury - a dislocation, torn rotator cuff and torn labrum that threatened to end his career just as it was beginning to flourish.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” Brees said. “You know, I never thought I’d be leaving San Diego, but unfortunately I had the injury after my fifth season in 2005, and that’s what led me to New Orleans; otherwise, I never would have ended up here.
“It felt like it was a calling to come here. It felt like it was about much more than football, you know?
“This was six months post-(Hurricane) Katrina, and the city was still very much in a recovery mode. Just the opportunity to be a part of that recovery and resurrection of the city, and obviously the Saints organization … it’s been a true blessing.”
Twelve years later, Brees holds NFL career records for total yards (72,315), yards per game (283.6) and completion percentage (67.2). In five starts against the Vikings, he is 3-2 with a combined 1,563 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions - both in last year’s playoff.
Cousins, 29, is playing his first season with a new team after six seasons in Washington, the last three as the starter. The Vikings signed him to a three-year, guaranteed contract worth $84 million so he could win games like Sunday’s, which will certainly be felt when postseason fates are decided in December.
He has been good in two games against the Saints - 1-1 with a combined 646 yards and seven touchdowns, and no interceptions. His QB rating against the Saints is a nearly perfect 150.3.
“He’s always been a real good passer,” Payton said of Cousins. “He’s got a quick stroke. He’s very decisive and knows where he wants to go. He can get the ball down the field and you see that. I feel like their vertical passing game has expanded some and you’re seeing big strikes, plays that aren’t necessarily just underneath.”
Last November with the Redskins, Cousins completed 22 of 32 passes for 322 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers in a 34-31 overtime loss at the Superdome. He and Brees crossed paths at the 2016 Pro Bowl, which Cousins called “a great opportunity for me to just watch and learn.”
Sunday, Cousins said, “will be a great challenge for us.”