EAGAN - In a short week full of storylines, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins got ahead of any questions Tuesday and said he thinks of one word when it comes to the Washington Redskins: Gratitude.
Cousins will face his former team for the first time Thursday night when the Vikings (5-2) host the Redskins (1-6) at U.S. Bank Stadium. He left the Redskins after the 2017 season, entered free agency and signed a three-year, $84 million fully-guaranteed contract to run the Vikings’ offense.
It hasn’t been the smoothest ride in Minnesota so far, but in the Vikings’ current three-game win streak, he’s thrown for 976 yards and 10 touchdowns, with just one interception. Cousins leads the NFL with a 114.3 quarterback rating.
He acknowledged Tuesday he wouldn’t be in the NFL if it weren’t for the Redskins. They took him with the 102nd overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
“They picked me when nobody else did. I was sitting around waiting for a phone call for 2.5 days, and I got a call from the Washington Redskins. That will be a memory I’ll always have,” Cousins said. “I was given an opportunity to start when there weren’t many people outside of that building who thought I should. They stuck by me when there was a stretch there, we were 2-4, and many people thought it should be over for me to be playing. Then we had that comeback game against the Buccaneers and I yelled the words ‘You like that!’ and kind of never looked back. So I’m just so grateful.”
History shows, at least recently, that Cousins tends to play at his best under motivational circumstances.
In his return to his native Michigan last Sunday in front of several family and friends, Cousins threw for 337 yards and four touchdowns. One of those went to Adam Thielen, who left the game after the 25-yard score with a hamstring injury and never returned. The Vikings don’t yet know of Thielen will play Thursday. He’s saying he feels good and will to everything in his power to get on the field against the Redskins.
In his absence Sunday, Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr. and Bisi Johnson combined or 14 catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns. Rudolph had a season-high give catches for 58 yards. He sees it as just another game for Cousins, and a game the Vikings need to win before getting a long weekend off.
“Nothing really special for me to say to him. It’s a short week, this is a big game for us and we need to get a win. The Kirk that I know, this is just another nameless, faceless opponent and he understands how important it is for us to get to 6-2 before our little mini bye,” Rudolph said.
Regardless, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer says he plans to have a conversation with Cousins before kickoff Thursday about staying in the moment. What matters is the team getting another win, stacking onto the three leading up to it.
We saw Cousins’ personality come out with the Redskins in a 2015 comeback win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The video is infamous – he stormed into the stadium tunnel heading back to the locker room and yelled, “You like that?!”
He was also highly critical of himself both in the preseason and after a Week 2 loss at Green Bay, saying, “I’m not going to be playing quarterback here, if I play the way I did Sunday, for much longer. I understand that.”
Zimmer wants Cousins to focus on the Vikings getting a win Thursday night.
‘I’m going to talk to him a little bit today about some of those things. He needs to just focus on his job, focus on getting the guys in the right place and doing what he’s supposed to do. There’s always some emotions when you’re playing a team that you went against. I’m sure Adrian and Case are doing the same thing, right?” Zimmer said. “But it’s more important that we focus on what we have to do and his job and what he has to do than worry about all the other things that go along with it.”
He knows he still has his critics in Washington. In six seasons with the Redskins, Cousins threw 99 touchdowns and 55 interceptions. He was 26-30 as their starting quarterback.
From what Cousins had to say Tuesday, it appears he’s on the same page as Zimmer. He wouldn’t go into specifics on why things didn’t work out with the Redskins, just saying he’s grateful to the organization for giving him a chance back in 2012.
“The quarterback I am, the player I am and where I am in this league now is largely as a result of the coaches I got to play for there and the way they impacted me and the teammates I got to play with,” Cousins said. “In a way, it’s challenging to play your team because you have so much respect for the people on the other side of the field, but that’s what Thursday night calls for so that’s what we’re going to do.”