Preview: Reunions abound as Vikings host Washington
MINNEAPOLIS — The coaches and players who have departed the Washington Redskins have not always been complimentary of their time with a franchise that has experienced its share of dysfunction over the past two decades.
Kirk Cousins conceivably could have joined that chorus of critics, a cacophony amplified just last week by Kyle Shanahan. After all, the team's disinterest in giving him a longer-term, market-rate contract left Cousins as the rare starting quarterback playing on a one-year deal for two seasons in a row before becoming a free agent and signing with the Minnesota Vikings in 2018.
That's not his style, though, nor is it his story.
"Honestly for me, when I think of my time in Washington, I just think of the word gratitude. I'm so grateful that I was drafted by them," Cousins said.
The fourth-round selection in 2012 out of Michigan State finally became a full-timer in his fourth year, after second overall pick Robert Griffin III flamed out.
"They picked me when nobody else did. I was sitting around waiting for a phone call for 2½ days," Cousins said. "I was given an opportunity to start when there weren't many people outside of that building who thought I should."
Cousins will face his former team for the first time on Thursday night, when the surging Vikings (5-2) host the reeling Redskins (1-6). As fate would have it, the player Cousins replaced, Case Keenum, now has his old job.
After a one-year stop in Denver, Keenum was traded to Washington. He will visit U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time since the "Minneapolis Miracle" pass he completed to Stefon Diggs for the winning touchdown on the final play of Minnesota's divisional round game against New Orleans after the 2017 season that was a career best for the longtime backup.
"There's not enough time to reminisce," Keenum said. "It's a special time, a special play, a special group of guys, something I'll remember forever, but not necessarily this week."
Like his successor in purple, naturally, the significance of playing against his old team was mostly an afterthought for Keenum. Even if there were actually some lingering bitterness fueling extra motivation, well, neither of them would acknowledge it.
"I've played long enough to where I feel like if I keep going like I'm going I might play against my old team every week," Keenum said. "It's adding up now, so it's just a normal game for me."
When the Redskins let Cousins leave as a free agent after trading for Alex Smith and signing him to a contract extension, they thought they'd stabilized the quarterback position. Instead, because of Smith's broken leg and assorted other chaos, they have played six and started five different quarterbacks over the 23 games they've played since Cousins left.
Smith, longtime backup Colt McCoy, Mark Sanchez, Josh Johnson and Keenum have all started at least one game. Rookie Dwayne Haskins, their first-round draft pick this year, appeared in relief. Cousins started all 48 regular-season games from 2015-2017. Keenum has been interim coach Bill Callahan's choice since he stepped in more than two weeks ago for the fired Jay Gruden, who preferred McCoy.
"I made it known back then when Kirk was here: We both talked about playing together for years. But things happen," running back Chris Thompson said.
ALL DAY IS STILL ALL RIGHT
The reunion theme on Thursday is not just for quarterbacks. Redskins running back Adrian Peterson has already played at Minnesota since his 10-season run with the Vikings ended, but the return of the franchise's all-time leading rusher will still be a big part of the show.
Particularly since Callahan has steered the offense toward a throwback strategy, with Peterson carrying the ball 43 times for 199 yards over the past two games. With 60 rushing yards, Peterson would pass Jerome Bettis and LaDainian Tomlinson to land in sixth place on the NFL's all-time list.
An ankle injury has him listed as questionable, but there's little doubt that he'll try to play.
"I was there for a decade and still to this day, I have fans that follow me," Peterson said. "I have fans that come to Redskins games that are die-hard Vikings fans because they're Adrian Peterson fans. The love is always going to be there."
Cousins didn't miss a beat last week after two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Adam Thielen left the game in Detroit because of a hamstring injury that occurred during his first-quarter touchdown catch.
Whether going deep to Diggs, toward the sideline to rookie wide receiver Olabisi Johnson, or underneath to tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr., Cousins had plenty of options that will have to remain viable again this week while Thielen sits out for the first time in his NFL career. He has played in 90 consecutive games, including three in the playoffs.
THIRD TO NONE
One sure sign of a struggling team is a lack of success on third down, and the Redskins are checking that box on both sides of the ball. The defense has allowed opponents to convert 49.5% of their opportunities, the third-worst rate in the league. On offense, they're second to last at 24.7%, with penalties a significant problem. Washington has been flagged 71 times for 434 yards, nullifying 157 yards that otherwise would have been gained.
"Having those third downs that are third-and-2, third-and-3, third-and-4, and not those third-and-10 third downs, make a difference a lot," right tackle Morgan Moses said. "We've just got to continue doing what we do: handing the ball off, running the ball, putting ourselves in the best position possible."
WASHINGTON (1-6) at MINNESOTA (5-2)
Thursday, 8:20 p.m. EDT, Fox, NFL Network and Amazon Prime Video
OPENING LINE — Vikings by 15
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Redskins 2-5; Vikings 5-2
SERIES RECORD — Tied 13-13
LAST MEETING — Vikings beat Redskins 38-30, Nov. 12, 2017
LAST WEEK — Redskins lost to 49ers 9-0; Vikings beat Lions 42-30
AP PRO32 RANKING — Redskins No. 30, Vikings No. 6
REDSKINS OFFENSE — OVERALL (29), RUSH (24), PASS (31).
REDSKINS DEFENSE — OVERALL (21), RUSH (27), PASS (12).
VIKINGS OFFENSE — OVERALL (6), RUSH (3), PASS (17).
VIKINGS DEFENSE — OVERALL (6), RUSH (7), PASS (15).
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — This will be third stadium for Washington to visit in as many trips to Minnesota, after playing at Metrodome in 2013 and temporary site TCF Bank Stadium in 2014. Vikings opened U.S. Bank Stadium in 2016. ... Teams have met four times in playoffs, with Redskins winning three, including NFC championship game after 1987 season. ... Redskins have started five QBs (Alex Smith, Colt McCoy, Mark Sanchez, Josh Johnson, Case Keenum) and played six (those five plus Dwayne Haskins) since letting Kirk Cousins sign with Vikings in 2018. Cousins started all 16 games for Washington each season from 2015-2017. ... Keenum's previous game at U.S. Bank Stadium was playoff win against New Orleans on "Minneapolis Miracle" pass to Stefon Diggs for TD on final play on Jan. 14, 2018. ... Redskins RB Adrian Peterson had 199 yards on 43 rushes over past two games. Peterson, who played 10 years for Vikings, has four 100-yard games in 22 appearances with Washington. ... Washington's third-down offense ranks second-worst in NFL with 24.7% conversion rate. ... Redskins have allowed opponents to convert on 49.5% of third downs, third-worst in league. ... Redskins have been penalized 71 times for 434 yards this season, nullifying 157 offensive yards. ... Vikings have won first three home games by 100-36 combined score. ... Cousins leads NFL in passer rating (114.3) and passing yards per attempt (9.1), after becoming first QB in league history to post 300-plus passing yards and 135-plus passer rating in three straight games Vikings won by cumulative 108-50 margin. ... Vikings WR Adam Thielen, ruled out with hamstring injury, misses first game after 90 consecutive appearances including playoffs. ... Vikings RB Dalvin Cook leads league with career-high 725 rushing yards. ... Vikings defense has not allowed rush longer than 18 yards, the shortest "long rush" allowed by NFL team this season. Vikings tied with 49ers for league lead with only one rushing TD allowed this year. ... Vikings DE Danielle Hunter leads NFL with nine tackles for loss. ... Fantasy tip: Vikings rookie TE Irv Smith Jr. was targeted career-high six times last week vs. Lions, catching five passes for 60 yards. Fellow TE Kyle Rudolph also had season-high six targets, with five catches for 58 yards and TD.