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'Swag' or 'No Swag,' Cousins Leading Vikings with Confident Play

MINNEAPOLIS — Sunday was Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's 115th regular-season game in Minnesota, and the 120th overall if you include the postseason.

It's hard to think of many that have looked better on offense.

"I told the team that it's the best offensive performance that I've seen in the eight years that I've been here," Zimmer said after a 30-17 home win powered by 453 yards of offense.

That marked the seventh time in Zimmer's tenure that Minnesota's offense gained that many yards while also scoring at least 30 points. (The Vikings are now 6-1 in such games—the lone loss was last year in Week 3 against Tennessee).

But a big reason for the Vikings strong showing against the Seahawks (and really, in the past 10 quarters) is the play of quarterback Kirk Cousins.

The Vikings fourth-year starter was nearly flawless again Sunday, completing 30 of 38 passes (78.9 percent) for 323 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Teammates and Zimmer heaped praise on Cousins, who was only sacked once, after Minnesota's first win of the season.

"Kirk's playing his [butt] off, the offense played their [butt] off," said Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen. "I haven't seen Kirk play like this in a long time. He's playing great football right now. You've got to recognize that, and we've just got to keep it going."

Zimmer said: "I think he's playing outstanding. But not only that, he's playing with a lot of confidence. He's also ... I really appreciate the leadership that he's been doing lately. It's been so much better, something he wanted to work on. He's done a great job with that. He's very confident where he's throwing the football. He's very confident with these receivers. I think the offensive line has helped him do some of those things as well."

Wide receiver Adam Thielen added: "It's been a different Kirk. He's just locked-in and on time; he's trusting it. I think a big part of that is our O-line and the way they're blocking and giving him enough time to sit back there and make his reads. He's got a progression, and then finding open guys."

Cousins, meanwhile, deflected any individual praise. Instead, he said Vikings Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak, quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko and quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Kellen Mond have all had a hand behind the scenes in his success.

"I think I play with really good football players. I think that helps," Cousins said. "I also think that Klint Kubiak's doing a phenomenal job. I think Andrew Janocko's doing a phenomenal job, and I can't say enough about the working team around me getting me ready for Sunday.

"Kellen and Sean are with me on a Wednesday and Thursday well after 7 o'clock at night helping me talking through plays in walkthrough and watching tape, and I can't say enough about the kind of working team that helps get me ready for Sunday," Cousins added. "It starts with Klint and Andrew, but Sean and Kellen, too, the help they've been. I think all that has made a big difference."

Of course, there's also the noticeable swag Cousins is playing with in 2021. Through three games, he's averaging 300-plus yards per game and hasn't turned the ball over once.

And while the first two games of the season were losses, Cousins certainly did his part to put the Vikings in a position to win.

"He has a little more swag to him this year actually," said running back Alexander Mattison. "Being around [Justin Jefferson] in the locker room, the lockers are switched around a little bit.

"He has a little more swag to him. He's one of those playmakers, he always has been that way," Mattison said. "He's just stepped up even more honing in on his craft and making everyone better around him. Huge credit to Kirk for the way he played today and the way he led us."

Cousins, now in his 10th season, is well-aware of his (lack of) swag.

"Kyle Shanahan used to say that my swag was having no swag. He told me as a rookie to never change," Cousins quipped. "When I came out for my first preseason game, he said my jersey looked so big it looked like I was wearing a Halloween costume.

"Someone said something about, 'You should get a different facemask and a better jersey and this or that, wear your socks different,' and Kyle cut him off and said, 'No, his swag is having no swag.' I like it that way," Cousins added. "I kind of laugh because there's a hint of truth in the joke."

Cousins compiled a passer rating of 128.4 on Sunday, his highest of the season. He's been at 100-plus in that category in each game this season and now has 17 consecutive games with a passer rating of 90 or higher.

But his best throw of the game wasn't a touchdown to Thielen, Jefferson or Conklin. Instead, it was a pass to K.J. Osborn midway through the fourth quarter.

Up 10 points and facing third-and-5 from the Seattle 37-yard line, Cousins backpedaled to give himself just enough time to evade a blitzer before lofting a pass to Osborn on a crossing route for a first down.

Maybe it's a play Cousins doesn't make in his first three seasons in Purple, but he's making them now.

"If you're really trying to protect the football, maybe there's a time to eat that and not put it out there," said Cousins, who was walloped at midfield. "I felt pressure, I felt K.J.'s gonna be 1-on-1 with a shallow cross.

"I have of trust in K.J.'s ability to separate versus man coverage and go get the football," Cousins continued. "I felt like if I put it out there, there'd be green grass and at worst it's incomplete, and K.J. made me right.

"You see a flash of purple," Cousins added. "You have a ballpark idea, but I think when I talk about getting reps, reps give you the ability to play on instinct, and so when you get a lot of reps on a play, you can see flashes of purple and just feel where you need to throw the ball."

View game action photos of the Vikings before the team's home opener at U.S. Bank Stadium against the Seahawks.

Zimmer gave his assessment of the play:

"He knows when the extra rusher belongs to him, and he knows when he has to get it out. He's hung in there before and done it. I think we just had a good play call on. They were in man-to-man and they were blitzing, and we had some crossing routes, which it's hard to cover those things."

Cousins' monstrous performance helped the Vikings improve to 1-2 in a season that will be 17-games long for the first time.

The Vikings host the Browns next week, and Minnesota will need Cousins to play like he did Sunday in order to get back to .500 on the young season.

"There's a lot of football up ahead," Cousins said. "You say it when things are going poorly — that we have a lot of football left as an encouragement, but I would also say you say the same thing when you win.

"We've got to stack them up," Cousins added, "One win doesn't do it, we've got to keep going."