In a week where the reaction to Kirk Cousins’ fourth-quarter interception has been magnified, because of who it was against and what it cost the Vikings, the team has tried to walk the line between putting the pick in context and correcting the tendencies that might have caused it.
Coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday the Vikings have “the utmost confidence” in Cousins, whose 52.9 passer rating against the Packers was the third-worst of his career as a starter. Cousins, Zimmer said, is “in a good place where he’s going to play good this week and continue to play good for the rest of the year.”
But when he was asked about the interception — which came as Cousins lofted a back-foot throw for Stefon Diggs while retreating from pressure on first-and-goal — the quarterback said if he had another chance, he’d approach it by doing what Zimmer said he should do on Monday.
“I’m going to throw it away,” Cousins said. “If I’m in that situation again, the ball’s going in the stands. If you’re asking, ‘How do you make tight-window throws?’ I would just say, I’ve probably thrown, I don’t know — 2,000 balls in my career. You just kind of learn after 2,000 reps that, ‘Hey, it’s going to be tight. They’re NFL defenders. I’ve just got to trust what I see and let it go.’ But if you’re outside the pocket, in a situation like what I was in, the ball’s got to go in the stands.”
Cousins, who threw two interceptions on Sunday, also lost a fumble and has an NFL-high four fumbles this season. For all his impressive statistics last season — a 70.1 completion percentage, 4,298 passing yards and 30 touchdowns among them — turnovers were perhaps his biggest issue during his first year in Minnesota. Though he ranked ninth in the league with an interception on just 1.7% of his passes, his seven lost fumbles, combined with his 10 interceptions, made up a large portion of the Vikings’ 20 giveaways — which matched the most by a Zimmer-led team in Minnesota.
“You try to study it, and see a risk-reward balance, when it’s worth it and when it’s not,” Cousins said. “Every situation can be a little different. So you study it, but I watched Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game last year, throw an interception on the goal line. The guy’s played, what, 20 years now? One of the biggest games of the season, he threw a pick on the goal line. He came back and played amazing the rest of the game, but it happens. You make mistakes. I remember seeing Tom’s reaction after that play; it’s like, ‘How did I do that? Come on.’ That’s the same feeling I had after that play [against the Packers]. I know better, and you just have to come back.”
Cousins will get the chance to do so on Sunday against a Raiders defense that has allowed more passing yards than any team in the league through two games and gave up an NFL-high 36 touchdowns last year. Paul Guenther, Zimmer’s former linebackers coach in Cincinnati, is the Raiders’ defensive coordinator, running a scheme similar to the one Cousins practices against every day.
It presents a friendly opportunity for a rebound game at home, at a time where the quarterback could use one.
“I’ve always liked Cousins,” said Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who spent several offseasons training with Cousins while he worked at ESPN and Cousins played for his brother Jay in Washington. “He’s a quality person, comes from a great family. Works hard at his game, man. He works hard at football. He’s had a lot of production … He does great, he gets a heck of a contract here to go to Minnesota. Hopefully we can find a way to slow him down and win a football game.”
The contract Gruden mentioned — the fully-guaranteed $84 million deal the Vikings gave Cousins before last season — is already up after the 2020 season, meaning the team could already start making decisions about a new deal for the 31-year-old QB before next season.
While Cousins said he appreciated Zimmer’s vote of confidence in him on Wednesday, he continued to harp on the one thing that will erase the questions: In the words of the late Raiders owner Al Davis, just win, baby.
“In this league, no one’s giving you anything. This isn’t a charity,” he said. “You’ve got to play well to earn people’s confidence. If [Zimmer is] saying [he believes in me], it’s because he’s seen practice reps, he’s seen game reps. He knows what we’re capable of throwing the football. You’ve got to go out and earn it. Believe me, I’m not going to be playing quarterback here much longer if I go out and play the way I did this past Sunday. I understand that, and I’ve got to go out and play at a much higher level.”