MINNEAPOLIS — Philadelphia linebacker Zach Brown attempted to plant doubt between the ears of Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins when given the opportunity on Friday.
“I think every defense is going to want that guy to throw the ball,” said Brown, who was a teammate of Cousins’ in Washington in 2017. “For me, that’s probably the weakest part of their offense is him. Everything else is good. They’ve got a good running game, probably one of the best in the league. They have real good receivers. You just want them to pass the ball. You want Kirk Cousins to get it in his hands.”
Brown was gambling Cousins’ reaction to his comments would be to over-think them and potentially fall apart on Sunday. Turns out Brown didn’t know Cousins as well as he thought he did and Cousins, well, he claimed he didn’t even know about Brown’s comments until after the fact. Not only did Cousins not fall apart but he put together one of his best games since signing a three-year, $84 million contract with the Vikings in March 2018.
Cousins completed 22 of 29 passes for 333 yards with four touchdowns, one interception and a 138.4 passer rating in a 38-20 victory that put the Vikings at 4-2 and will silence the Cousins’ critics (this one included) for the time being.
“I just found out about (Brown’s comments) about 20 minutes ago,” Cousins said after the game. ” (An ESPN reporter) talked to me on the field and mentioned it. I didn’t even know what (Brown) said. I really do stay in here and not read anything and that’s for my best interest. Zach was a teammate in Washington, he’s one of the better linebackers I played with or against. I have a lot of respect for him. If you’re trying to write a story about how it was a motivator this week, it wasn’t because I didn’t know about it. Ignorance is bliss. I just put my head down and work and prepare the same way every week and not try to ride the roller coaster.”
Two weeks ago, the Vikings left Chicago with a 2-2 record and their season seemingly on the ropes. Cousins and the Vikings offense looked awful against a very good Chicago defense and wide receiver Stefon Diggs was so unhappy with how things were going that he stayed away from work on Monday and Wednesday and ended up being fined more than $200,000.
The Vikings rebounded with a strong showing in a 28-10 victory against the Giants in New Jersey. Cousins completed 22 of 27 passes for 306 yards with two touchdowns and a 138.6 rating, including seven completions for 130 yards and two scores to Adam Thielen. The problem was the Giants’ defense is awful — actually, the whole team is terrible — and so it was hard to take too much from that game.
Just as it had been difficult to take too much from the Vikings’ home victories over bad Atlanta and Oakland teams. In both of those wins, Cousins served as a successful and highly paid game manager. When it mattered most, in NFC North losses at Green Bay and Chicago, the Vikings and Cousins had shown us very little.
The Eagles’ secondary has been torn apart by injuries and thus their pass defense isn’t good. But Philadelphia’s front is able to get pressure, meaning the Vikings’ usual run-first approach needed to be altered on Sunday if it was to finally win a game that could be considered a tough test. That also meant Cousins had to be relied on to be far more than a guy who was simply asked to manage the game and hand off to Dalvin Cook.
Cousins not only passed the test he did so by making several impressive passes that gave the Vikings a 24-3 lead in the second quarter before the Eagles began to rally. A nice 6-yard touchdown pass to Thielen in the opening quarter was followed by a pair of back-to-back strikes of 62 and 51 yards for touchdown to a no-longer-unhappy Diggs in the second quarter. After the Eagles pulled within four points in the third, Cousins found Diggs again on an 11-yard strike in the back of the end zone.
One thing Cousins did not do was fumble the ball, something he had done in four of five games this season and seven times so far (two lost) in 2019. Dalvin Cook rushed for only 41 yards on 16 carries against the Eagles’ tough run defense as Alexander Mattison led the Vikings with 63 yards on 14 attempts.
“We threw it 29 times, not 10, so everybody can be happy now,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.
This marked the second consecutive season that Cousins had an impressive showing against Philadelphia. Last season, he completed 30 of 37 passes for 301 yards with a touchdown and a 109.6 rating in a 23-21 victory in Philadelphia. Cousins is 6-3 lifetime against the the Eagles with a career-high 21 touchdown passes and six interceptions. Cousins’ lone miscue Sunday came only because a nice sideline pass to Diggs deflected off the wide receiver’s hands and helmet and into the hands of former Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo.
“Kirk answered all the questions,” Diggs said. “He went out there and played his balls off.”
Cousins, as is his style, tried to downplay his performance, just as he attempts to downplay it when things go wrong. “We stood up here after Week 1 and said, ‘We played the game that was called,’ and today we played the game that was called,” said Cousins, who attempted only 10 passes against the Falcons. “They were very different games. It was called very differently for different reasons. You play the game that is called and the outcome is what the outcome is. … Today it was an aggressive one where you got a lot of opportunities to throw the football.”
What mattered was Cousins was able to make the most of those opportunities and, for this day at least, look like a guy who was worth that big contract.