EAGAN, Minn. -- Before last season, Kirk Cousins lamented that he was merely “a .500 quarterback in my career.” With that in mind, he’s not about to get overly excited about the Vikings getting their 2020 winning percentage up to .444.
Cousins got off to a rugged start in his third Vikings season, throwing 10 interceptions in the first six games as they went 1-5. They have rebounded to win three straight — all against NFC North foes — and Cousins threw just one interception in those games, and that one wasn’t his fault.
On Wednesday, Nov. 18, though, he shrugged off talk that he has turned his season around.
“While it’s great to win three in a row, we’re 4-5,” he said. “You know, we’re not 7-2 and we’re not leading our division. I don’t feel a sense that our season has turned around. I feel we’ve done some good things the last few weeks, but we have a lot of work ahead to get to where we really want to go.”
At least the schedule will get much easier for Minnesota. The next three games are all at home, against weaklings Dallas (2-7) on Sunday, Carolina (3-7) on Nov. 29 and Jacksonville (1-8) on Dec. 6.
Cousins will enter the stretch in a much better spot than three weeks ago when he led the NFL in interceptions and faced speculation about whether he would even be back with the Vikings in 2021. And now he’s at least over. 500 again in his nine-year career as an NFL starting quarterback, improving to 48-47-2.
“It shows the character of him,” running back Dalvin Cook said of Cousins’ recent improved play. “Block the outside noise out and just go to work. That’s just what he does. … That’s turning things around.”
Cousins owes much to Cook for the three-game winning streak. In wins of 28-22 in Week 8 at Green Bay and 34-20 over Detroit in Week 9, Cook rolled up 369 yards rushing, 478 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns. Cousins needed to throw just 34 passes in those two games, the lowest two-game output in his career as a starter.
In Monday night’s 19-13 win at Chicago, Cook was slowed somewhat, finishing with 96 yards rushing on 30 attempts. But Cousins was solid, throwing more passes than in the previous two games combined. He completed 25 of 36 throws for 292 yards and two touchdowns with one interception, a ball that Adam Thielen “apologized” to Cousins for bobbling to create the turnover.
“If you go back and look at last year, Kirk started out a little slow, got better and had a really good October and continued to get better each and every week,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “I think it’s a credit to the way he works, the way he continues to study, trying to understand what the defense is going to give him this particular week.”
Cousins, who signed a three-year, $84 million contract as a free agent in 2018 after six years with Washington, said before last season he needed to improve his then-career starting record of 34-37-1 to get to the “next level.” The Vikings got off to a 2-2 start in 2019 before winning four straight, for which Cousins was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month for October. They finished 10-6 and won a playoff game, earning Cousins a two-year, $66 million extension that takes him through 2022.
Cousins is in his first season with offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Though Kubiak was on hand last year as an offensive advisor, Cousins said he is continuing to get more comfortable with him as this season has progressed.
“The more you can stack up weeks and seasons, I think the more you can be on the same page to start to finish each other’s sentences, in a way,” Cousins said.
After his turnover issues in the first six games, Cousins said that perhaps he needed to be “less aggressive” and hit more “singles” than trying for so many “home runs.” While the Vikings have followed through with that strategy the past three games and thrown fewer high-risk passes, Cousins said he considers each of those games separate entities.
At least the speculation has died down significantly about whether Cousins will be back next season. His $21 million base salary for 2021 already is fully guaranteed, and on Wednesday the exact date of March 19 became known when his $35 million base salary for 2022 is in line to become guaranteed. With the NFL announcing that the 2021 league year will start on March 17, Cousins’ guarantee for 2022 would kick in at the close of the third day.