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Kirk Cousins can talk about being benched, knowing it simply isn’t going to happen

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Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks to pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Kirk Cousins’ words after the Vikings’ 40-23 loss to the previously winless Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at U.S. Stadium might have carried a bit more meaning if one was convinced he truly believed what he was saying. Cousins had thrown three first-half interceptions — including a pick on the first play from scrimmage — that led to 17 points as Atlanta jumped to a 20-0 halftime lead and basically ended the game.

“The reality is if the pace I’m on in terms of the interceptions, if that were to continue, I won’t finish the season,” he said. “I won’t — you know what I mean? There’s a little bit of, you got to improve. Whether it’s them telling me, ‘Hey, we’ve got improve,’ or them pulling me. We’ve got to get better. That’s what the rest of the season will be about for me, is trying to protect the football as best I can. Because when you turn the ball over, it really hurts your chances to win. I know that. I just need to improve as we look ahead to the rest of the season.”

Cousins is right but coach Mike Zimmer’s refusal to bench Cousins at halftime and put in backup Sean Mannion, shows how little the Vikings think of Mannion and just how afraid they are to bench Cousins for any amount of time. It’s easy for Cousins to talk about being benched, if the threat isn’t real, and at this point that appears to be the case.

The Vikings have a lot of money and pride invested in Cousins. Originally signed to a three-year, $84 million free agent contract in March 2018, Cousins received a two-year, $66 million extension in March. That helped the Vikings free up some salary-cap space for this season and could keep the 32-year-old in Minnesota through the 2022 season.

It’s looking more and more like the Vikings should have accepted their cap woes of 2020 and let Cousins play in the last year of his contract. He now has thrown 10 interceptions in six games, or four more than he threw in 15 games last season. Cousins finished Sunday’s game with a misleading box score line as he completed 24 of 36 passes for 343 yards with three touchdowns and three picks. His 90.4 passer rating wasn’t all that bad.

Unfortunately for Cousins, he didn’t do one thing when it mattered. His real stats were 8-for-14 for 102 yards with three picks and a 40.5 passer rating. That came in the first half. Cousins’ issue when he first arrived in Minnesota was fumbles. After losing five of 13 fumbles in his last season with Washington in 2017, Cousins lost seven of nine fumbles in his first season with the Vikings and three of 10 last year. He has lost one of two fumbles in 2020, but now is throwing way too many interceptions.

“I need to correct it,” Cousins said. “I need to finish the season with a different story, regarding the interceptions, so that’s something I need to improve with the remaining games we have. I don’t know that I’d limit it to the interceptions. I think it’s just the entire offensive performance. It’s just, I need to be better, we need to be better.”

And if the Vikings return from their bye week and things don’t improve, will Cousins be benched? Don’t count on it.