MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — There had been nearly six months of buildup and anticipation surrounding Kirk Cousins’ debut in Purple.
The Vikings quarterback didn’t disappoint, and he showed his competitive spirit in the process.
Cousins played a solid and efficient game in his first regular-season outing for Minnesota, embracing both the excitement and expectations while leading the Vikings to a 24-16 win in Week 1 over San Francisco.
“It was outstanding. The fan base, their traditions here … it’s just a dream to play here and be a part of this,” Cousins said of his debut. “I feel very fortunate to be in the position I’m in.”
Cousins completed 20 of 36 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He had a passer rating of 95.1 in his Vikings debut, which would have been higher had he not misfired on his final eight passes of the day, including a ball deliberately thrown out of bounds after time expired on the final snap of the game.
That rating was the best in a season opener for Cousins, who had ratings of 68.7, 72.7 and 72.9 in the past three Week 1 games with Washington.
Cousins made plenty of hay in the passing game, but it was a fourth-quarter run that had everybody talking.
With three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Cousins took off on third-and-5. He did all he could to move the chains, diving forward but coming up inches short.
“We always talk about sliding and protecting yourself, but in that situation, I’m right there at the chains,” Cousins said. “I think you have to do something.
“Maybe the right move wasn’t to dive … but we had played too hard at that point to just slide early and give up on that,” Cousins added.
The play was nothing Cousins’ teammates and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer hadn’t seen before.
“He’s the biggest competitor I’ve ever been around. That third-down scramble kind of embodies the type of player that he is,” said tight end Kyle Rudolph. “A lot of guys might try to make a guy miss or slide, and he dives headfirst trying to get the first-down. He’s out there competing, and that’s the guy kind of he is.”
Added Zimmer: “When the game is on the line, we’re trying to get the first down. Go for it. I’m all in.”
When Cousins did what the Vikings gave him a three-year contract to do — throw the ball — he spread it around. The quarterback found seven different players through the air as the offense totaled 343 yards.
“I thought he played well, especially early. He made some great throws … the two touchdown passes were great throws,” Zimmer said.
Cousins’ first touchdown throw for the Vikings was the 100th of his career. He dropped a perfectly placed ball down the left sideline as wide receiver Stefon Diggs skittered into the end zone for a 22-yard score.
“It was the usual … Kirk throwing some good balls,” Diggs said. “I was just trying to make a play for him.
“If we get in the red zone, it’s big that we get points … it’s critical,” Diggs added.
Cousins came back late in the third quarter and found Kyle Rudolph for an 11-yard score, the tight end’s only catch of the game.
“He threw an unbelievable ball and put it in a place where only I was going to catch it,” Rudolph said. “I just had to do my end of the deal and catch it and get my feet in.”
Adam Thielen was also a favorite target as the wide receiver had a game-high six catches for 102 yards.
The All-Pro said Cousins was as good as advertised in Week 1.
“I think he proved it and threw the ball accurately,” Thielen said. “He got us in the right places, and he is a guy that we have a lot of trust with. We know that if we can get open, he’s going to find us and put it on target.”
Cousins is in his fourth season as a starter, but his first in Minnesota. He earned a season-opening win for the first time in his career.
And while he secured a Week 1 win, Cousins knows there is more to come, starting with a Week 2 road trip to Green Bay as the Vikings get set to face their biggest rival.
Cousins said he’ll just continue to be himself as his Vikings journey continues.
“I think it will always be a challenge playing quarterback in this league, of staying even keel and not riding the roller coaster,” Cousins said. “You also want to play with passion, so you try to find that middle ground.
“I think that’s the challenge of playing quarterback in this league,” Cousins added. “There is a lot on your shoulders, and there is a lot going on. It’s a fast game … you have to manage it the best you can.”
So far, so good for Cousins in Purple.