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Dane Mizutani: Kirk Cousins has the toughness needed to take Vikings on playoff run

He took a couple of big hits in Sunday’s game against the New York Jets and bounced back to his feet.

NFL: New York Jets at Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins looks on after the game on Sunday against the New York Jets at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Matt Krohn / USA Today Sports
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Kirk Cousins has a mantra he has lived by since joining the NFL 10 years ago. He learned it from Super Bowl-champion coach Mike Shanahan during their time together with the franchise now known as the Washington Commanders.

“He would always say, ‘Tough times don’t last. Tough people do,’ ” Cousins said. “I believe strongly in that.”

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He doesn’t just believe it. He embodies it every time he steps on the field.

Since becoming an unquestioned NFL starter in 2015, Cousins has never missed a game due to injury. The only time he’s been forced out of action came in Week 16 of last season when he tested positive for COVID. He has been durability personified throughout his NFL career.

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How?

“I don’t have a great answer for that,” Cousins admitted. “I do know a lot of people are praying for protection, and have been for my entire career, and I think those prayers have been answered.”

In that same breath, Cousins credited his bodywork people in the Twin Cities, noting that he works with them on a daily basis during the regular season to protect his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame.

“I say, “Hey, I’m in a car accident every week (playing in the NFL). You’ve got to put me back together,’ ” Cousins said. “You get put back together and then get ready for the next car accident.”

NFL: New York Jets at Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins looks to pass on Sunday while New York Jets defensive end John Franklin-Myers defends during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Matt Krohn / USA Today Sports

Regardless of who is helping keep him healthy — whether it’s a higher power or his trainers — Cousins is the person taking the punishment at the end of the day. His toughness can’t be overstated. He has taken some big hits over the past decade and always has found a way to get back up.

Look no further than Sunday’s 27-22 win over the New York Jets for a perfect example of how tough Cousins truly is.

Though it wasn’t his most impressive performance by any means, Cousins stood out in the way he battled for the Vikings against the Jets. There was a stretch before halftime where Cousins got brutalized on back-to-back plays. He got up both times and continued to march the Vikings down the field.

“He’s such a competitor,” first-year coach Kevin O’Connell said. “It gave us a little bit of juice in that moment.”

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With the pocket collapsing around him on that particular drive, Cousins scrambled to his left, lowered his shoulder and gained just enough yards for a crucial first down. He admitted he wasn’t sure where the line was for the first down, and knew if he slid he might not get the yardage needed. He decided instead to sacrifice his body — and got blasted by Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley in the process.

“I tried to make sure I gave it everything I had,” Cousins said. “My mindset was, ‘Let’s get everything we can here.’ ”

He did the same thing on very next play, standing tall in the pocket with pressure in his face, then unleashing a deep pass to receiver Jalen Reagor for a 38-yard gain. After peeling himself off the turf at U.S. Bank Stadium, Cousins got back under center and finished the drive with a touchdown.

“He’s a dog,” safety Cam Bynum said. “Get him a few more chains because he’s going to continue to be a dog. He has that mentality. He’s going to win the game.”

It’s clear that Cousins has gained the respect of his teammates this season with his toughness. He literally lays it on the line for them week in and week out. It’s what makes the Vikings so dangerous moving forward as long as he can stay on the field.

“You’ve certainly got to be smart,” Cousins said. “You want to be there for the team in the weeks ahead.”

That shouldn’t be a problem for Cousins given his track record.

Tough times don’t last. But Kirk Cousins always seems to.

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