DETROIT – Kirk Cousins was clicking on all cylinders all afternoon in the Motor City.
The quarterback connected with seven different pass catchers en route to the Vikings 42-30 defeat of the Lions.
“He executed the game plan,” Stefon Diggs said. “He did everything he was supposed to do at the quarterback position. I know he gets a lot of crap, but he handles it really well, and he leads this team the best way he can.”
The divisional matchup proved to be the grind-it-out game Vikings teammates anticipated, but Cousins and Co. showed up and showed out.
Cousins finished the day 24-of-34 passing for 337 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 141.4. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to have at least 300 passing yards and a passer rating of 130 or higher in three consecutive games, all of which have been Vikings victories.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph, one of five Vikings who got in the end zone Sunday, was asked about Cousins’ performance and reiterated a message he’s given media members before.
“We have to do a good job of putting him in situations that make him comfortable,” Rudolph said. “When you’re firing on all cylinders on offense, the run game’s going well, the play-action passes, that’s when Kirk’s at his best.”
“I can’t say enough good things about our coaching staff and the game plans that they’ve put together to put me in a position to be successful,” he said. “When we run the football effectively, it’s taking pressure off me. When we do throw, we can get touchdown passes and we’re not just having to drop back and check it down because they’re playing soft coverages.”
All of the above came together at Detroit.
Cousins said the offense did a “phenomenal job” of playing a balanced ball game and using multiple skill sets to do so. From bootlegs and play-action passes to a relentless run game, the Vikings moved the ball arguably more effectively than they have all season.
He avoided calling it Minnesota’s best offensive game but did acknowledge its success, particularly on third downs.
“A lot of our third downs today were manageable,” Cousins explained. “We’re not in third-and-12 over and over again, and that makes a big difference in your ability to convert them.
“I just felt like when the play calls were coming in, I was in agreement with them so many times, feeling like it was going to give us a great chance, and then we were running the ball proficiently,” he continued. “And when you do that, I think it helps a play-caller and a quarterback feel like they have the wind at their back a little bit.”
The Vikings played the majority of the game without star receiver Adam Thielen, who left with a hamstring injury after scoring an impressive touchdown in the first quarter.
View postgame celebration images from Sunday as the Vikings beat the Lions by a 42-30 score.
Cousins gave credit to other players who stepped up, including rookie receiver Bisi Johnson, Diggs, Rudolph, Irv Smith, Jr., and Tyler Conklin, who played a role in the blocking game. He called the use of the tight end trio “key” in helping lift the Vikings over the Lions.
“That will be a big part of our offense. We have three tight ends on the field a lot,” Cousins said. “We ask them to protect, to run block, to run the entire route tree. I can’t say enough about the way that all three of them contribute.”
Added Rudolph: “We’ve always known we’ve had a ton of talent on offense; it’s just a matter of using them and getting everyone involved, and that’s not easy. If you go back and look at the last two games, now we’re starting to see it.”
Cousins additionally praised the Vikings offensive line. Josh Kline returned to the lineup at right guard after missing last week’s contest with a foot injury, and the unit did not allow a sack.
The line held strong throughout several long drives, including a 97-yarder in the second quarter that ended with an 8-yard score by Dalvin Cook.
After entering halftime tied 21-21, Cousins told the offense that it was imperative to score on their first possession to open the third quarter.
“As we’re walking from the locker room to the field, Pat [Elflein] said, ‘I love the grind,’ and I said, ‘If you’re made of the right stuff, you love that.’ You enjoy that fact that it’s an absolute grind to go on the road and win,” Cousins recounted. “I said, ‘You’re going to enjoy the next 30 minutes, because it’s going to be a grind in the second half.’
“I think what they were alluding to is it’s fun to just grind and work hard together and battle and know that it wasn’t going to be perfect, but we came out on top,” he added.
Elflein postgame called it a “meat-grinder of a game” and tipped his hat to Cousins.
“He’s showing up every day, going to work,” Elflein said. “That’s what he does. He keeps us on track, in rhythm. He’s a leader, and you can’t say enough good things about him.”
Against the Giants, Eagles and now the Lions, the Vikings QB has played with a fiery edge and posted big outings.
Is there anything different that can be pinpointed?
Cousins simply believes it’s an increased comfort level in the 2019 Vikings offense.
“You’re always growing and trying to get more and more familiar with it. You never stop or settle,” he said. “I think you also have to get an idea of your personnel and what they do well. I think we did have some newer names this year that we’re counting on, and as we’ve been able to play more football, we’ve been able to get a feel for what they do well and how to put them in a position to be successful.”
He later added that it’s unrealistic to expect every game from here on out to be as offensively dynamic as the previous three, but it’s important to take advantage of what each matchup dictates.
“Sometimes you just have those games where plays that you didn’t think are going to be there are there. Other games, it’s going to be a struggle, and we might have to win 10-9, and that’s OK,” Cousins said. “We’ve just got to find a way to win with what the game calls for. The last few weeks, it’s been more of opening it up and letting it fire.”
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said that Cousins is playing “the best I’ve seen him play” since signing with Minnesota as a free agent in 2018.
He credited the coaching staff and game plan, as well as Cousins’ mentality.
“He’s playing very free right now, is letting the ball loose. Even on some of the incompletions, he’s putting the ball in good places,” Zimmer said.
The road win improved Minnesota to 5-2 entering a short week. The Vikings will host the 1-6 Redskins for Thursday Night Football in just four days but are doing so with momentum.
“I was proud of the character of our football team,” Cousins said. “I thought it was a great game. I expected it to be a tough one. I thought [Detroit] going into the game could have been undefeated, with the way they had lost [two previous games], so I have a lot of respect for them.
“The way we were able to go on the road and get a win is a big deal,” he added. “We’re going to enjoy this one.”