Kirk Cousins has more confidence than ever before. Because the Vikings believe in him
Kevin O’Connell empowers Cousins on a daily basis and the results speak for themselves.
EAGAN, Minn. -- Kirk Cousins failed to set his feet and sailed his throw over his intended target. The result? An easy interception for New England cornerback Jonathan Jones.
That would’ve tilted Cousins in a past life. He would’ve been risk averse the rest of the way so as not to make another mistake.
That wasn’t the case as Cousins responded with arguably the best performance of his career in primetime to lead the Minnesota Vikings to a 33-26 win over the Patriots on Thanksgiving. He completed 30 of 37 passes in the game for 299 yards and three touchdowns.
Asked how he was able to bounce back from the early interception, Cousins pointed to the culture the Vikings have in place this season. He has more confidence than ever before. He isn’t walking on eggshells around TCO Performance Center in Eagan or looking over his shoulder during games at U.S. Bank Stadium.
That’s because current coach Kevin O’Connell has empowered Cousins in a way former coach Mike Zimmer never did. Though he never actually mentioned anyone by name, his effusive praise of O’Connell said everything that needed to be said about Zimmer.
“At times it almost brings me to tears the way these guys support me and have my back,” Cousins said. “It really adds to the fun of playing.”
It’s been a strange couple of months for Cousins. His numbers aren’t anywhere near the top of the league, yet he has more than made up for it with his play in crunch time. A perfect example came on Thanksgiving when Cousins found Adam Thielen in the back of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown that proved to be the difference.
“He made a great decision,” O’Connell said. “What an unbelievable throw in that moment.”
It was a play the Vikings had been hunting all night long with the Patriots doubling Justin Jefferson on a regular basis. They finally got the look they wanted and Cousins capitalized on it.
“He did a good job of reading it out and firing it in there,” Thielen said. “It was pretty close to getting tipped, so I’m glad we completed it.”
Asked about Cousins postgame, Thielen said he’s noticed a change in his demeanor this season. No longer is Cousins carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
“He’s just going out there and playing football,” Thielen said. “That’s something that we try to continually talk to him about like, ‘Just go out there and play football. You’re a dang good football player. You prove it week in and week out.’ When he does that, and he did that tonight, he’s among the best in the league.”
That said, Cousins feels like he can improve on his play to this point.
“I’m coming to these press conferences trying to smile, having to work to smile, because I’m thinking to myself, ‘Man, I’ve got to play better,’ ” Cousins said. “I appreciate winning because it does make this a little easier.”
There were specific plays that came to mind when Cousins thought about his performance on Thanksgiving. Never mind the interception that shows up in the box score. There was a late completion to K.J. Osborn that easily could’ve been picked off and taken the other way.
“I threw too quickly,” Cousins said. “I tried to put touch on it. I just need to stick my back foot in the ground and rifle that thing to him. It was way too close for comfort.”
Why think about these little things after a big win in primetime?
“This is the way I am, man,” Cousins said. “I’m an improver. I’m kind of obsessed with improvement. Even when things are good, my mind goes to, ‘How can they be better?’ ”
Luckily for Cousins, it’s clear O’Connell knows how to push the right buttons. The results speak for themselves. Now it’s on to the next game.
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