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Why does Vikings QB Kirk Cousins struggle when lights are bright?

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks on prior to the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Nov. 18. Quinn Harris / USA TODAY Sports
  1. PAUL — Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins pushed back when asked this week about his 4-12 career record in NFL prime-time games.

His reasoning: In the NFL, each game is its own entity, and his struggles when the lights are brightest are coincidence more than anything else.

Still, whether Cousins wants to admit it or not, his struggles in such games have become a trend. It sure feels that way with his new team, the Vikings, with whom he is 0-3 in prime-time games this season.

While the three losses have come against three pretty good teams — 38-31 on the road to the Los Angeles Rams, 30-20 at home against the New Orleans Saints and 25-20 last Sunday on the road against the Chicago Bears — Cousins needs to find a way to remedy those issues against the Green Bay Packers at 7:20 p.m. Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“I feel like a little bit of a broken record because the question each week is, ‘How important is this game?’” Cousins said. “And the answer is, ‘Yeah, it’s important.’ They all are. I don’t really know how to give a different answer on it. It’s an important game. We need and want to come out with a win and there’s certainly a sense of urgency, as there is every week as we prepare.”

That sense of urgency will more than likely hinge on how Cousins performs in another pressure-filled environment. He hasn’t shown the ability to rise to the occasion in big moments this season; the Vikings (5-4-1) haven’t beaten a team with a winning record.

“If there’s a difference (with prime-time games), it’s going to be that we’re playing good football teams,” Cousins said. “We got flexed to that prime-time game last week because we were playing a really good football team. If either of us weren’t good, I don’t think we’d get flexed. If there was a difference with prime time, that would be it. I don’t know of many other differences. I certainly don’t treat them any differently.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of Cousins’ struggles in prime-time games is that he actually puts up pretty good numbers. He has completed 68 percent of his passes for 4,883 yards, 31 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Those are money numbers.

“The untrained eye is going to look at the final score and say, ‘Well, that was not a good performance,’ ” Cousins said. “The trained eye is going look a little deeper and say, ‘Well, let’s go play by play and say how we did.’ It’s week to week, as every game is, regardless of when we play.”

Cousins is quick to point out that statistics aren’t always indicative of success, referencing how the Washington Redskins won last season on Thanksgiving Day despite his poor performance.

“It gets a little bit convoluted trying to look at a stat and pair it with a player,” Cousins said. “We’d have to go back through all the prime-time games I’ve played and talk through them because every game is different.”

Let’s do that.

Sept. 25, 2014: 45-14 loss to N.Y. Giants

His numbers: 19 of 33 passing for 257 yards, 1 touchdown, 4 interceptions

Cousins’ first prime-time performance was maybe his worst. His four interceptions led to a Giants rout on the Redskins’ home field. Ouch.

Oct. 6, 2014: 27-17 loss at Seattle

His numbers: 21 of 36, 283 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT

Two weeks later, Cousins was much, much better, with pair of touchdown passes and no turnovers. But trailing 17-0 at halftime, the Redskins still lost.

Sept. 24, 2015: 32-21 loss at N.Y. Giants

His numbers: 30 of 49, 316 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT

Two Cousins interceptions led to 14 Giants points that decided the game, and most of his passing yards came in garbage time.

Dec. 7, 2015: 19-16 loss to Dallas

His numbers: 22 of 31, 219 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT

The Redskins drove deep into Dallas territory three times and had to settle for field goals. Cousins did throw a game-tying touchdown with less than a minute to play, but the Cowboys marched right down the field on the ensuing drive for a game-winning field goal.

Dec. 26, 2015: 38-24 win at Philadelphia

His numbers: 31 of 46, 365 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT

Cousins did the heavy lifting with a near-perfect performance to produce the first win of his career under the lights. He got the Redskins a big early lead, and they coasted.

Sept. 12, 2016: 38-16 loss to Pittsburgh

His numbers: 30 of 43, 329 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT

He didn’t throw a touchdown and the Redskins were never competitive in a beatdown at the hands of the Steelers.

Nov. 20, 2016: 42-24 win over Green Bay

His numbers: 21 of 30, 375 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT

Cousins was brilliant in a duel with Aaron Rodgers, and Washington won in a rout.

Dec. 19, 2016: 26-15 loss to Carolina

His numbers: 32 of 47, 315 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Cousins couldn’t manage a touchdown through the air as the Redskins offense never got going.

Sept. 24, 2017: 27-10 win over Oakland

His numbers: 25 of 30, 365 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT

In perhaps the best prime-time performance of his career, Cousins was dominant as the Redskins took control early and never looked back.

Oct. 2, 2017: 29-20 loss at Kansas City

His numbers: 14 of 24, 220 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT

Cousins played a clean game and certainly wasn’t the reason the Redskins lost. That said, he failed to make the big play when it mattered most.

Oct. 23, 2017: 34-24 loss at Philadelphia

His numbers: 30 of 40, 303 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT

His costly fourth-quarter interception overshadowed an otherwise solid effort.

Nov. 23, 2017: 20-10 win over N.Y. Giants

His numbers: 19 of 31, 242 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT

His two second-half touchdown passes and the struggles of Giants QB Eli Manning were the deciding factors.

Nov. 30, 2017: 38-14 loss at Dallas

His numbers: 26 of 37, 251 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT

Cousins threw a pair of interceptions during a game in which the Redskins were never competitive.

Sept. 27, 2018: 38-31 loss at L.A. Rams

His numbers: 36 of 50, 422 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT

In his first prime-time game with the Vikings, Cousins was outstanding. But with a chance to win, he turned the ball over late, fumbling on the final drive of the game.

Oct. 28, 2018: 30-20 loss to New Orleans

His numbers: 31 of 41, 359 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT

Cousins put up good numbers, but his costly pick-six to P.J. Williams after halftime put the game out of reach.

Nov. 18, 2018: 25-20 loss at Chicago

His numbers: 30 of 46, 262 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT

Cousins made sure his numbers looked respectable with a couple of long drives in garbage time. That came after throwing another back-breaking pick-six, this time to Eddie Jackson.

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