The Minnesota Vikings were dealt a crushing blow on Friday afternoon when it was announced that starting quarterback Kirk Cousins tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss Sunday's primetime divisional showdown with the Green Bay Packers. Minnesota enters that ever-important contest against a common opponent with their backs against the wall. The Vikings currently have a 13% chance of qualifying for the postseason, and those chances would plummet to a grim 3% with a defeat on Sunday night.
Head coach Mike Zimmer must now make a difficult decision regarding his starting quarterback. All signs point to Sean Mannion being named the starter, and it would ultimately be the correct decision. The 29-year-old Mannion was recently activated from his own stint on Minnesota's COVID-Reserve list and should be good to go for Sunday. Vikings fans may prefer to see their rookie third-round selection Kellen Mond receive the start instead, but Mannion is the correct, levelheaded decision given the circumstances.
Throwing a third-round rookie signal-caller into the limelight against Aaron Rodgers and a surging Packers team under the bright lights of primetime would be a monumental error. Had Minnesota already been officially eliminated from playoff contention, getting an extended look at Mond would make all the sense in the world, but that's not the case. Mike Zimmer's Vikings are continuing to fight for their playoff lives and that gives them little choice but to anoint Mannion the starter in what can be summed up as a less-than-ideal situation.
A rookie quarterback out of Texas A&M, Mond hardly looked prepared to make the competitive jump to the NFL throughout a three-game sample size in the preseason. Mond received a plethora of playing time in exhibition showings, ultimately completing 28-of-51 passing attempts (54% completion percentage) for 310 passing yards, zero touchdowns, and one interception while also losing one of three fumbles. Mond certainly deserves an opportunity to prove himself at some point, but a playoff elimination game (basically) against Rodgers in Week 17 is hardly the time for that.
Enter Mannion, a veteran journeyman and former third-round selection of the Los Angeles Rams back in 2015 out of Oregon State. Mannion is currently in his second stint with the Vikings and hasn't appeared in an NFL game since 2019. For his career, Mannion has completed 60% of his passing attempts while throwing for 384 yards, zero touchdowns, and three interceptions. It hardly inspires confidence as Minnesota inches toward what's likely to be another wasted campaign, but Mannion does give them a better chance of rescuing their season than Mond does.
Mannion's familiarity with Minnesota's offensive scheme and veteran presence makes him the "right" choice for Zimmer and Minnesota on Sunday. It's all terrible, and largely represents a scenario the Vikings (and their fans) were hoping to avoid down the final crucial two-game stretch. The unthinkable has unfortunately occurred, and the Vikings must usher their way forward while navigating through some difficult waters without their starting quarterback and leader at the helm. There's no white knight on his way to rescue the Vikings from this bind, but Mannion still represents their best chance.
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