When Kirk Cousins threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage Sunday, Vikings fans knew what direction the game was likely headed.
They also knew exactly what he’d say about it after the game.
Cousins didn’t disappoint.
“There’s not much to say about the game,” Cousins said. “It was not good enough, especially in the first half and I’ll take responsibility for that.”
We know, Kirk. We know.
When you throw an interception on the first play of the game, then things go downhill from there, there is most definitely not much to say about the game. And, yes, you should shoulder much of the responsibility for an embarrassing 40-23 loss to previously winless Atlanta at U.S. Bank Stadium.
In a dour season for Cousins and the Vikings, Sunday’s performance was the worst yet.
Cousins has never thrown more than 13 interceptions in a season in his career. Through six games this season, he has thrown 10. Sunday he became the first Vikings quarterback to throw three interceptions in the first half of a game since Daunte Culpepper in 2002, also at home against Atlanta. Cousins did it against a Falcons defense that had two interceptions all season entering Sunday’s game.
His unreliable play this year has not only been harmful to the Vikings’ offense, but it has often put a defense that is grooming a young secondary in challenging positions against some of the game’s best quarterbacks.
Seven of Cousins' 10 picks — seven out of eight if we eliminate two interceptions on Hail Mary attempts at the end of a half — have led directly to short fields and points for the opposing team.
Last week, in a game in which the Vikings outplayed Super Bowl contender Seattle for 58 minutes, two Cousins turnovers early in the third quarter flipped the scoreboard, if not the momentum.
Sunday, Atlanta turned his three interceptions into 17 points, the same margin by which they won the game.
All of this isn’t to say that Cousins is the Vikings’ only problem. He’s not. But he is their biggest problem, to the point that the franchise may well need to consider eating the $40 million-plus in dead cap space it would incur by cutting him prior to the start of the 2021 league year.
“You just have to play well in this business,” Cousins said when asked about the possibility of getting benched or cut if his play doesn’t improve. “The reality is, if the pace I’m on, if that were to continue, I won’t finish the season. … You have to improve, whether it’s (coaches) telling me I have to improve or them pulling me, I have to get better. That’s what the rest of the season is about for me.”
We’ve defended Cousins often in this space and on social media over the past two years, mainly because he’s shown enough flashes of brilliance and has put up good enough stats to keep us believing.
A young team needs its QB to be a leader on and off the field, someone who commands attention and respect. All Kirk commands right now is a slap upside his helmet and to get no hotdish or lutefisk at the Vikings’ bye-week potluck. We know that’s harsh, but desperate times call for drastic measures.
To be fair, Cousins has often beaten his teammates to that, slapping himself in the head and yelling at himself as he walks to the sideline after again dropping points in the lap of the opposition.
It’s time for him to stop telling us he needs to be better and start showing it.
Cousins also has the Vikings over a barrel in a way.
Who are they going to replace him with? Sean Mannion, who, in his only start with the team, last year, delivered one of the least inspiring performances by a Vikings’ QB since Spergon Wynn? Call up Jake Browning or Nate Stanley from the practice squad and hope they become the next Tom Brady, or at least the next Case Keenum?
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer knows the answer to those questions, too. He was asked after the game if there was ever a point where he considered pulling Cousins.
Zimmer offered a terse, one-word response: “No.”
If it wasn't crystal clear before this season it is now: Minnesota won't win a Super Bowl with an erratic Cousins as its QB. But barring injury, he is the Vikings’ starting QB for at least the next 10 games.
The burning question now: Will Zimmer be his head coach for that long?
Jason Feldman is the Post Bulletin sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com