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Cousins, Offense Struggle in 'Strange' Loss to Falcons

MINNEAPOLIS — All offseason, the mantra from the Vikings was that a veteran-laden offense was going to carry a team that was replacing numerous defensive starters.

The offense featured Pro Bowlers at skills positions across the starting lineup and was playing in essentially the same scheme from a season ago.

The man who was supposed to orchestrate Minnesota's offensive attack — quarterback Kirk Cousins — received a contract extension in March after the best season of his career in 2019.

But through six games, there has been too much inconsistency on that side of the ball, including from the starting quarterback himself.

That was as evident as ever in Minnesota's 40-23 home loss to a previously winless Atlanta team in Week 6. As the Vikings enter their bye, they are now a paltry 1-5.

Cousins threw three interceptions on the day, including one on the very first snap of the game to Atlanta linebacker Deion Jones. The quarterback said it wasn't a tricky coverage or anything he hadn't seen before.

"The first one, I thought, was the worst one of the game, if you will," Cousins said. "First play of the game … the coverage was not confusing, it was just a zone drop.

"I simply forced the football into coverage and tried to do too much," Cousins added. "That's a mistake I may have made in Year 1, but I am disappointed that I would do that now."

The turnover led to an early Falcons touchdown, and left Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer scratching his head.

"We throw an interception on the first play of the game," Zimmer said. "It's just strange."

By the time the first half was over, Cousins would be intercepted twice more.

His second turnover on the day came on a tight throw that the Falcons rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell hauled in for his first NFL interception. That also led to an Atlanta touchdown.

Cousins' third pick came in the second quarter when his arm was hit as he threw. The ball fluttered to Atlanta linebacker Foyesade Oluokun, and eventually led to a Falcons field goal and a 17-0 Vikings deficit.

"The second one … third down … saw Cover 2 and felt him squeeze Adam [Thielen], double Adam," Cousins said. "I wanted to replace the squeeze with throwing it to Justin. The cloud corner made a good play and jumped it.

"Then the third one, I was trying to work the bender to [Chad Beebe and my arm got hit," Cousins added. "It obviously went up in the air and was intercepted."

Cousins concurred with his head coach that the performance was strange. But he said that word described the first six games of the season as much as the frustrating first half on Sunday.

View game action images as the Vikings take on the Falcons on Sunday.

"I think that's a good word. I think 'strange' is a good word," Cousins said. "The first six weeks of the season have felt that way at times each and every week. Certainly, that's been frustrating. I think today felt similar in that way."

Cousins was a Pro Bowler in 2019 as he three just six interceptions, his lowest total in five seasons as a starter. Cousins now has a whopping 10 interceptions on the season, and has a pair of games with three interceptions alone.

Zimmer responded with a quick and firm, 'No,' when asked if he thought about benching Cousins at halftime. But the quarterback said after the game that it's on him to play better in order to give his chance a team to win going forward.

"I need to correct it. I need to finish the season with a different story regarding interceptions. That's something I need to improve with the remaining games we have," Cousins said. "I don't know that limits the interceptions. I just think the entire offensive performance … I need to be better. We need to be better."

Cousins later expanded on his need to play better for the Vikings.

"You just have to play well in this business and the reality is if the pace that I'm on in terms of the interceptions were to continue, I won't finish the season, you know what I mean," Cousins added. "There's a little bit of, you've got to improve, whether it's you know, them telling me, 'Hey, you've got to improve,' or them pulling me, you've got to get better, and that will be what the rest of this season is about, for me, trying to protect the football as best as I can, because when you turn the ball over, it really hurts your chances to win.

"I know that, and just need to improve as we look ahead to the rest of the season," Cousins added.

Cousins improved his final stat line in a turnover-free second half, finishing with 343 passing yards and three touchdown passes, two of which went to Justin Jefferson.

The 2020 first-round pick was a bright spot for Minnesota's offense in Week 6, finishing with nine catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns. He recorded the third 100-yard game of his young career.

But with star running back Dalvin Cook sidelined with a groin injury, the Vikings offense couldn't get their ground game going. Zimmer attributed that to both lack of opportunities, and Minnesota trailing by double digits for nearly the entirety of the contest.

Alexander Mattison had 26 yards on 10 carries in his first-career start, and the Vikings finished with 32 total rushing yards.

With Cook out, the onus was on Cousins to elevate the offense, get a win and gain some momentum heading into the bye.

But after a dismal performance from the quarterback and the offense through three quarters, the Vikings will now look within for answers heading into the bye week.

"It was not good enough, especially in the first half," Cousins said. "I'll take the responsibility for it.

"[Going forward], you correct what took place. You talk about it, you take the coaching that you need to get. And you coach yourself, too, and be hard on yourself and identify why mistakes are happening and correct them, fix them," Cousins later added. "Whether that's in the way you prepare on the field, off the field, whatever it may be. When you have a tough loss and you're 1-5, you're certainly looking for ways to improve. It's easy to do that. That's what I'll do, and we'll do as a team."