MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Kirk Cousins felt like a pharaoh on the Minnesota Vikings sideline, sitting on an air-conditioned seat while being shaded in the sweltering Miami heat.
Maybe he was too comfortable because he was there quite often on Sunday.
The Vikings offense had 11 three-and-outs on offense, and it had just two conversions on 12 tries on third down. Minnesota was nearly doubled in yards gained (458-234), playing against two backup quarterbacks, Skylar Thompson and then Teddy Bridgewater.
But it didn’t matter until there were about four minutes left in the game.
The Vikings defense recovered a game-deciding fumble, running back Dalvin Cook scored a 53-yard touchdown in his return home to Miami to ice the game, and Minnesota beat the Dolphins 24-16 at Hard Rock Stadium.
Follow every game: Live NFL Scores
NFL NEWSLETTER:Sign up now for exclusive content sent to your inbox
IT DIDN’T DISAPPOINT:Bills defeat Chiefs in rematch of last season’s epic playoff game
The Vikings are 5-1, and one of four teams in the NFL with five wins this season. And they have a two-game lead over their rival Green Bay Packers (who lost at home to the Jets) in the NFC North.
Somehow, some way, the Vikings are among the league’s elite.
Yet, Minnesota – under the 11-year veteran Cousins and new coach Kevin O’Connell – leaves so much to be desired on the field every week.
Maybe, that’s by design.
“Sometimes it may feel like to Vikings fans, depending on what Sunday it is, but what I would say is we’ve got a tough resilient group that maybe doesn’t always play the most consistent, but they are willing and able to have each other’s backs in all three phases,” O’Connell said.
“I feel like this team is tough. I feel like this team has the ability to win football games a lot of different ways, and we’re probably going to need to with the type of schedule we have the rest of the way, but I’m really excited about our group.”
Or you could read that this way: Even the Vikings coach doesn’t know which team is going to show up every week.
And that could be a problem moving forward.
The Vikings haven’t played well enough to have any status as one of the best teams in the league because of their record or how they’ve beaten their opponents.
They could dominate the Packers in Week 1 or look like one of the league’s worst teams against the Eagles in Week 2. They could play down to the wire against the Lions at home and the Saints in London. Or they could even blow a 21-3 lead, allow 19 straight points, and then prevail against the lowly Bears.
Or they could do what they did against the Dolphins on Sunday – hang around with a team struggling without their starting quarterback, and nearly let them come back in the fourth quarter before putting the game away.
But ultimately, it’s up to them to respond accordingly.
“I feel like this game went like how our Philly game went, but in the second half, we came to play instead of coming out and having the same lull momentum, like we did the first half,” said Vikings star receiver Justin Jefferson, who finished with six catches for 107 yards.
Cousins found Jefferson for Minnesota’s longest play of the game, a 47-yard completion down the right sideline at the end of the third quarter. Two plays later, Cousins threw his second touchdown of the game, a 2-yard pass at the back of the end zone to receiver Adam Thielen when the fourth quarter began.
And Dolphins receiver Jaylen Waddle’s fumble in the fourth quarter set up Cook’s game-clinching touchdown run with 3:15 left, and allowed the Vikings to enter their bye week with a positive outlook.
“If you ask anybody in the organization or our fan base if we could be 5-1 at this point before the season started, I think everybody would be like ‘Heck, yeah! I’ll do whatever it takes to get to that point,’ right?” said Thielen.
“We know we have to get a lot better. I’ve been on teams that have started fast and not make the playoffs. We have a lot of guys on this team that have had that experience to know we have to stay on top of it and keep getting better.”
Added Cook: “It gives us direction. It shows us the team we can be.”
Both Cousins and O’Connell were quick and plentiful in their praise of the Vikings defense, which had two interceptions, six sacks, eight pass deflections and 13 hits on Dolphins quarterbacks.
But they know the offense – with stars like Jefferson, Cook and Thielen leading the way – must click on all cylinders for the Vikings to win the NFC North and reach the postseason.
Cousins, who completed 20 of 30 passes for 175 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers, spoke all week about wanting to be more efficient for his defense’s sake. He ended the week finding the humor in his offense doing exactly the opposite.
“We need to execute better,” Cousins said lightheartedly, “but it’s great to have these conversations after a win as opposed to a loss.”
O’Connell put the onus on himself to see the Vikings improve.
“I think when you have playmakers like we do and I think a scheme that we feel very strongly about, give us four quarters and give us some time, we’re going to find ways to put points on the board,” O’Connell said confidently. “But ultimately, we’re also going to see some different defenses from people than maybe they show coming into games, and there’s some really good coaches in this league.”
“I put that on myself,” O’Connell added. “I’m always going to try to find a way.”