EAGAN, Minn. – At midfield, down four with one minute to play in the Vikings final 2-minute situation of training camp versus the Arizona Cardinals, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was flawless.
Three plays. 50 passing yards. Touchdown. Griddy.
Cousins and the Vikings offense capped the afternoon with back-to-back Justin Jefferson receptions. A 35-yard post-route score against a single-high shell offered by the Cardinals defense elicited a fist pump by Cousins and center Garrett Bradbury jumping into guard Ezra Cleveland's arms.
Ending their second joint practice on point, Cousins finished Thursday with three touchdowns during competitive team sessions, including a toe-tapping red zone score to rookie receiver Jordan Addison and another goal-line touchdown to a diving Josh Oliver.
The 12-year veteran quarterback was ready for every scenario the Cardinals defense threw at him on Thursday.
"I've had to learn that enough is enough and to trust your preparation," Cousins said before the session when asked if he'd be ready for Week 1 without playing in a preseason game. "I could go out and practice a hundred days in a row and still feel like I need that hundred-and-first day to be ready to go, and at some point, you have to put it to bed, trust your training, and go play."
Cousins, who is one of several NFL players featured in the NFL's "You Can't Make This Stuff Up" campaign, spoke to Twin Cities media members on Thursday at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center about facing Cardinals Head Coach Jonathan Gannon's defense.
Gannon, a former Vikings assistant (2014-17) coordinated the Eagles defense to Super Bowl LVII, and Cousins hasn't forgotten.
He recalled a situation versus the Eagles last year when Gannon sent a blitz, forcing a quick throw to the flats. But on Wednesday, Cousins saw a similar look and threw it where he wished he would have a season ago. Tight end Johnny Mundt caught the successful pass Wednesday.
Yet Cousins wasn't fully satisfied. He said the tape showed him there was an even better option open downfield, another example of Cousins and Head Coach Kevin O'Connell evolving together. O'Connell is the first play caller Cousins has had at the start of consecutive seasons since joining Minnesota.
"It's funny because you have these iterations, and you're always looking to get better, and you're saying, 'I learned from last year's rep, I'm trying to get to the right guy, but maybe there was an even better place to go with the football.' Those conversations are great," Cousins said. "You start to say, 'Hey, I remember something from two years ago, and I want to do this, but maybe against here I want to do that.' So, you love those 400-level discussions, and I'm getting to a place in my career where you can start to have them. It's exciting."
The Vikings showed improvement during 2-minute situations as well. On Wednesday, Cousins and the offense took what would have been a sack during an end-of-game situation. But on Thursday, the offensive line kept Cousins clean versus the Cardinals pass rush.
Right tackle Brian O'Neill fully practiced on both days. He stonewalled Cardinals rookie edge rusher BJ Ojulari on two critical Jefferson receptions on Thursday. The first was a third-and-10 during a "move the ball" session, and the second occurred during the 2-minute drill score.
"I'm not 100 percent sure," O'Neill said when asked about his Week 1 status. "But I feel like I could go tomorrow if we had a game. I'd be pounding on the table to go play. So, confidence-wise, I am ready to go."
The Vikings starting skill players have yet to play in a preseason game under O'Connell. That streak likely continues on Saturday, but Cousins may wear his game helmet on the sidelines for a second consecutive week. Though it's a memorable look, he's chasing any possible advantage.
Those subtle edges live in the margins, precisely where Cousins, O'Connell, Jefferson, and the offense intend to improve this season. Similar to how training camp ended, Cousins is laser-focused on pushing Jefferson and the offense to its peak by mastering every detail.
"It's subtle, but in this league, the margin for error being as subtle as it is, I'm going to lean into those subtleties," Cousins said. "I remember in Philly last year, the first away game of the year, a call came in on a third down, and it was a new term, a new play for the year, so I hadn't heard that word a lot, the play clock's running and I'm thinking, 'What did he just say, what did he just say? Oh, OK, that's the play. You just want to eliminate any of those moments that you can."