EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings confirmed Monday that quarterback Kirk Cousins is out for the season with a torn Achilles.
The 12-year veteran suffered the injury without contact in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 24-10 victory versus the Packers.
"Regardless of the circumstances, this is a tough break with the momentum we have as a team right now. We have to move forward. Nobody feels sorry for anybody in this league. And we know that. I know that," Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell told media members. "And we're going to move forward in the same kind of attack mode that we are going out and trying to get a win in each and every week."
Rookie Jaren Hall made his NFL regular-season debut in relief of Cousins and played Minnesota's final 11 offensive snaps. He is currently the only healthy QB on the 53-man roster.
Backup quarterback Nick Mullens is currently on Injured Reserve dealing with a back injury. The soonest he could be activated would be Week 10, though O'Connell did not confirm whether or not Mullens would be fully healthy at that point. The NFL trade deadline is 3 p.m. (CT) Tuesday, so Minnesota would need to work quickly if adding an experienced player via trade. Minnesota also has the option of adding a veteran free agent at any point.
"We're still working through some things on what that may look like to potentially add another player here," O'Connell said. "Knowing that Nick is also going to still be out at least, by the rules, another week. And we'll see where he's at and when that timetable starts."
Here are four additional takeaways from O'Connell's press conference Monday.
Support for Cousins | by Lindsey Young
While O'Connell remains focused on guiding the team and how to move forward after Cousins' injury, he also will continue to support Cousins as he starts the rehab and recovery process – as will the quarterback's teammates.
O'Connell acknowledged he'd spoken with Cousins Monday morning "more so as a friend" following the MRI and injury confirmation.
"It's about being in support mode for him right now," O'Connell said. "That's maybe getting him connected with some people who might be able to at least give him some advice – players who have gone through it, maybe currently going through it, things like that – that will allow him to have the best possible mindset, [which] I don't worry about one bit."
O'Connell noted Cousins already had been "discussing timelines" of when he'll be able to get back on the football field.
"Kirk Cousins loves playing this game," he said. "He takes a lot of pride in playing this game and being as durable as he's been throughout his career, so this is gonna be new for him. And that's what my job is, ultimately, for every player on our roster. […] It's the same for J.J. (Justin Jefferson) throughout this time. It's the same for Marcus Davenport. [And also] for some of the other players we've put on IR or who have been lost for the season since we've been here.
"I view that as a huge part of my job," O'Connell added.
Belief in Hall | by Ellis Williams
As mentioned, O'Connell is yet to name a Week 9 starter. But if Hall does play at Atlanta, O'Connell emphasized across-the-board confidence in the 25-year-old.
"I did want to see Jaren go in the [Packers] game and function. A lot of the feedback that I got from the guys in the huddle was he was outstanding calling plays, cadence and snap counts and the center-quarterback exchange," O'Connell said. "If he ends up being the guy, then every guy on our roster has confidence in Jaren."
Hall stepped in for Cousins at Green Bay, completing three of four throws for 23 yards while playing 11 snaps. He successfully protected the Vikings 14-point lead in his two relief possessions.
O'Connell is encouraged by Hall, whom he said did not "blink" or "hesitate" facing the Packers defense at Lambeau Field.
"I was really using some of those opportunities to show Jaren my confidence in him," he said. "But also give him some opportunities to play quarterback and convert a big third down there, get out of the pocket a couple times on some keepers and really just kind of start giving him an opportunity when all he's done is scout team reps up until this point throughout the season."
O'Connell credited the Vikings coaching staff for ensuring that Hall was ready.
An offense without Cousins | by Ellis Williams
First, it was Justin Jefferson landing on Injured Reserve. Now, O'Connell and the Vikings staff are preparing for another significant alteration to its offense without Cousins.
O'Connell acknowledged the obvious void Cousins' absence will create. But he also stressed the responsibility he and the coaching staff have in putting whoever starts at quarterback in the best position possible to succeed.
"Ultimately making the decisions I think are best for our offense as far as, you can do a lot of things, you can get carried away sometimes with scheme – and we've seen some great examples of that being very beneficial, down to the last little detail that we expressed to our players," O'Connell said. "Never underestimate the power of just putting the ball in play. Making good decisions."
Ultimately, the Vikings offense wants to remain true to its identity. O'Connell said doing so will be a challenge he and his staff believe they're prepared to undertake.
"What we built this offense around, really, through the quarterback, by the quarterback and to help the quarterback in a lot of ways. I think those principles have to stay true," O'Connell said. "Even if you've got to take a couple steps back. And I think through that process of doing so, where you might be in four or five weeks from a growth standpoint might be more beneficial than anything. And then you look back on it and say, 'Did we really change all that much? Or did we just once again morph and try to figure out the best way to collectively move forward?' "
But Hall, Mullens, and practice squad quarterback Sean Mannion won't be alone in the Vikings quarterbacks room, regardless of what happens next.
O'Connell noted Cousins plans to remain an active member of the position group after his Achilles surgery. He'll continue to participate in meetings and offensive planning sessions.
"My expectations are, in my dialogues briefly with Kirk since yesterday, is that he has every intention of still being a major, major part of our leadership," O'Connell said. "A part of the quarterback room, and part of our offense, a part of our plans, each week, schematically, like he's been, right there every step of the way. And quite honestly, I don't expect anything less from Kirk being the leader that he is."
Responding to adversity | by Lindsey Young
The Vikings have been faced with adversity before, and how they respond to this particular hurdle will say a lot about the team and its culture.
O'Connell is confident in his locker room and the way players have previously acted in challenging situations – including winning four of the past five games after an 0-3 start to the season.
"I really have challenged the team throughout my messaging, throughout this stretch of 2023, that adversity has really been a breeding ground for tremendous, tremendous growth within our organization," O'Connell said. "It will provide us some of the tools, maybe not to the extent [of] coming off losing our starting quarterback, but it will definitely be something that we'll all need to just do a little bit more.
"You guys have heard me use the 'response' word many, many times over these last few weeks. There's example after example of our team … picking each other up, finding a way to make the next play," O'Connell later said. "I think we've learned how to deal with those things together."
The head coach said it would be "naïve" to insinuate the team won't miss Cousins' leadership on the field. But will players look for ways to step up in certain situations and make an impact?
"I want our players to always look at adversity as an opportunity for growth. It's easier said than done, quite honestly, and that's when you have to have a culture of guys that are collectively doing things together. There's never finger-pointing, there's never blame [or] deflection of criticism and all that," O'Connell said. "Absorb, compartmentalize what you can, process what you can, and then we've gotta move forward. Because like I said, no one's going to feel sorry for us in any capacity."