MINNEAPOLIS -- Kirk Cousins doesn’t want the feeling he had two years ago.
To earn a playoff berth in 2016, Cousins and the Washington Redskins needed a win at home in the finale over the New York Giants, who already had clinched a postseason spot. Cousins threw two interceptions, and Washington lost, 19-10.
“I remember the feeling driving away from the game,” Cousins said Wednesday, Dec. 26. “I remember being disappointed, and I don’t want to feel that again.”
In his first season in Minnesota, Cousins faces a similar situation. On Sunday, Dec. 30, at U.S. Bank Stadium, he and the Vikings (8-6-1) must beat NFC North champion Chicago (11-4) to guarantee a playoff spot. Kickoff is set for 3:25 p.m.
The Vikings can still advance with a loss, but need defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia (8-7) to lose at Washington (7-8).
Don’t expect the Bears to phone it in on Sunday. They’re a game behind the Los Angeles Rams (11-3) for the No. 3 seed and hold a potential tiebreaker, although the Rams are heavy favorites to beat the San Francisco 49ers in Los Angeles. That game, too, starts at 3:25 p.m.
“It’s not complicated,” Cousins said. “I want to win. We want to win. We understand what’s at stake. There’s no magic formula. There’s no button you can push, or hours you can put in to suddenly snap your fingers and guarantee a win. You do all you can, give everything you have.”
Bears coach Matt Nagy said Wednesday he plans to play starters, and won’t pull them if the Rams take a big lead.
This doesn’t have the feeling of a regular week for Minnesota, which is facing a stunning early end the season a year after going 13-3 and making it to the NFC Championship.
“This is a playoff game,” nose tackle Linval Joseph said. “This could be our last game or we can go forward.”
If the Vikings win, the most likely scenario would be a return trip to Soldier Field for a playoff game on Jan. 5 or 6. They lost to Chicago, 25-20, there on Nov. 18. If they finish with the No. 5 seed, an outside chance, they would open at No. 4 Dallas. For that to happen, they need to beat Chicago and have Seattle (9-6) lose at home to Arizona.
There is a remote possibility of Minnesota finishing with the No. 6 seed and then playing at the No. 3 Rams. For that to occur, the Vikings, Eagles and Rams all would have to lose Sunday.
The Vikings, though, aren’t contemplating such scenarios.
“It is going to be a heightened sense of urgency. For us, the playoffs have already started,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “We know that we have to win this game in order to get into them.”
For Zimmer to be content, the Vikings likely must play better than they did at Chicago, a loss that essentially ended their hopes of defending their NFC North crown. In that game, they ran just 14 times for 22 yards, part of the reason Zimmer fired John DeFilippo three weeks later.
In two games with former quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefansky running the offense, the Vikings have rushed for a combined 320 yards.
Cousins also threw two interceptions against the Bears, whose 27 interceptions lead the NFL by a wide margin. Eddie Jackson returned it 27 yards for a touchdown, one of a league-leading five pick sixes for Chicago.
“We’ll have to do the best we can do to hold up and protect the football,” Cousins said.
Cousins knows too well what it feels like to throw two interceptions in a crushing defeat.