After Kirk Cousins’ first touchdown pass, a couple of Vikings hoisted Adam Thielen on their shoulders, turning him into a limbo pole.

They should have tried Cousins. He’s used to being held up for observation while at the mercy of his teammates.

Arm talent? Cousins can cut loose spirals from his ear to his ankle.

Statistics? Cousins could dilate your pupils with his numerical résumé.

Financial validation? Cousins could probably buy your house with his last paycheck.


What he lacks is what can be most difficult for an NFL quarterback to acquire: the reputation of a big-game winner.

The trick is that the target, like Thielen, is always moving. Win one game that’s considered important and you’re then required to win one considered even more important. Few contemporary quarterbacks have won enough big games to make the outcome of their next one irrelevant.

The inherent illogic in the Vikings signing Cousins was that they were trying to improve their postseason performance by acquiring a quarterback who has never won a playoff game.

Now, Cousins has done the next-best thing for a Viking: He’s beaten the Packers in a meaningful game, perhaps burying Green Bay’s season and their coach’s tenure.

Sunday night, Cousins was 29-for-38 passing for 342 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Vikings’ 24-17 victory over Green Bay. He is 1-0-1 as a Viking facing the Packers, and as is always the case with quarterbacks, that record doesn’t tell the whole story.

Cousins has cut through the Packers’ secondary almost as easily as Brett Favre did in his first year in purple. In two games, Cousins has completed 64 of 86 passes for 767 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception. He is one made September field goal away from being a Minnesota folk hero.

“He takes every game pretty personally, pretty serious,’’ said Vikings guard Tom Compton, who also played with him in Washington. “Any time he can put it all out there, especially in prime time, that says a lot about his character.’’

Ah, prime time, the autumn version of the big game. The Vikings’ victory on Sunday improved Cousins’ career record in prime-time games to 5-12. The stat is telling, stinging, and perhaps deceptive. Cousins spent all but this season with a dysfunctional Washington franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2005.

His duty is to improve that record while rescuing the Vikings from their nagging mediocrity. They knew they would face a season-defining stretch of four games after their bye.

Tom Baker for Star Tribune
VideoVideo (03:39): In need of a win after their loss to Chicago, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he was planning on being aggressive against the Packers, which was a strategy that proved successful in their win over their division rivals.

They lost at Chicago and have beaten Green Bay at home. Up next: games at New England and Seattle, two of the toughest sites in the NFL. Big games that beget bigger games.

“This just shows his character, shows what kind of player he is, to not care what people are talking about him, or about what happened last week,’’ Thielen said. “Just go out there and just play really good football. His full game was really impressive, and that’s what you expect out of him.

“The effort he puts in, the time he puts in, the energy he puts in, it’s really why we brought him in. He’s a leader and a gamer.’’

Cousins’ teammates have been saying that since this summer, but compliments ring truer in the midst of a playoff race, and when the quarterback has put his head down on a couple of stubborn runs, and when he has statistically outperformed the great Aaron Rodgers.

Tom Baker for Star Tribune
VideoVideo (04:31): Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins says the team's approach to playing the Packers was to make sure they didn't have any turnovers, as they have been a main factor in losses this season.

“He makes amazing throws, he makes great reads, he gets the ball to whoever needs to get the ball in certain situations,’’ defensive end Stephen Weatherly said. “That throw that he had to Thielen when he looked to be double-covered and Thielen makes that catch — there are only a handful of quarterbacks in the league who can make that throw, and luckily we have one of those guys.’’

Tom Brady and Russell Wilson await. The target is always moving, and the record is written in pencil.