QB Kirk Cousins’ Image Changes in 2022
Kirk Cousins is on a historic personal path in 2022. The Vikings’ quarterback is being viewed as a winner after a past of mostly mediocre results by teams he led in Washington, D.C., and Minnesota.
The 8-1 Vikings are off to a start unlike anything Cousins has experienced since he became a regular in Washington in 2015. That season the Commanders finished the season 9-7. Cousins’ next two seasons in D.C. saw the Commanders go 8-7-1 and 7-9. A hefty free agent deal (reportedly three years, $84 million) brought Cousins to Minnesota before the 2018 season where he has been part of teams with records of 8-7-1, 10-6, 7-9 and 8-9-1.
That’s a cumulative record of 57 wins, 54 losses and one tie as an NFL starting quarterback dating back to 2015. Cousins also has a 1-2 playoff record with the Commanders and Vikings.
At age 34, in his 11th year in the NFL, Cousins is gaining ground in the public view as a winner and even being mentioned as a potential NFL MVP. He is flourishing in a quarterback friendly environment unlike anything he has experienced before as a professional.
Cousins is making both routine and difficult throws that have the Vikings headed to their first NFC North championship since 2017. He has been primetime this season leading the Vikings to comeback wins, with the most recent Sunday’s game for the ages overtime victory against the Bills in Buffalo.
Cousins’ performance and leadership has been questioned in the past but he’s answered critics by thriving under new head coach Kevin O’Connell who is known as a quarterback whisperer.
Cousins’ disconnect with previous head coach Mike Zimmer is well documented but now the veteran has found a productive relationship with O’Connell whose skills include superb play-calling and creativity in adjusting offensive schemes. O’Connell said Monday, while praising Cousins, that his quarterback has been tasked with a new system this year and “we’re asking a lot out of him.”
Putting labels on football players is dicey business. For critics to label the Cousins of the past something other than a winner really depends on perspective. Just being able to quarterback an NFL team year after year can be viewed as enough to gain respect with fans and media. Cousins has been a regular starter for the last eight seasons and along the way earned a reputation as a top 12 to 15 pro quarterback.
Not bad. But the 2022 version of Cousins looks better than ever and he is surrounded by coaches and players that can do their share of the heavy lifting. Whether it’s the phenomenal WR Justin Jefferson, the explosive RB Dalvin Cook, the improved offensive line or timely playmakers on defense, the vanquishing Vikings are far from a one-man show.
Give the Vikings credit for winning seven consecutive games since losing to the Eagles on September 19. But four of their eight wins are by four points or fewer and their schedule has not been daunting. Their nine opponents have a cumulative record of 42-43. Only three opponents, the Eagles, Dolphins and Bills, have winning records.
And that stat brings up one of the beefs that has dogged Cousins’ quarterback career. He has long been criticized for his performance against teams with a winning record.
He has lost about two-thirds of such games as the Vikings’ quarterback (per Fanduel), but in fairness remember that football is a team game and a lot can go into outcomes and records (Rams QB Matthew Stafford won a Super Bowl last winter after a dreadful record of wins and losses with the hapless Lions). If the Vikings finish with a gaudy regular season record and make a deep playoff run, even that Cousins wrap of not beating teams with winning records will lose some of its sting.
Cousins believes lessons from the past help his leadership now. “…Sometimes when you’re not winning, those are the times where you have to come in with a smile on your face, upbeat, still bring energy, make sure practice is still fun,” he said. “That’s really, I think, the test of leadership, is when it’s not easy to do things, that you still bring energy and focus and preparation. And so, certainly, when you’re winning, there’s a little more wind at your back, but you can’t really let it change the way you approach things and not ever get too high or too low.”
Former University of Minnesota and Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz talking about Harvey Mackay’s 90th birthday: “He doesn’t count his years. He makes his years count.”
Mackay hosted a birthday celebration in Phoenix last weekend. Mackay, the Minnesota-born, UM alum and New York Times best selling author, is close friends with Holtz who coached the Gophers in 1984 and 1985 before going to Notre Dame and winning the 1988 national championship.
“The Amazing Hondo,” St. Paul’s John Hughes, is a Mackay favorite and he entertained with his magic tricks at the birthday celebration. Hondo, 70, is still playing recreational basketball in the Twin Cities with pals including Dennis Fitzpatrick, the former St. Thomas star.
Hughes took his nickname years ago from legendary Celtics great John “Hondo” Havlicek.