Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was uncontrollably energized as he delivered a rousing postgame speech on Sunday.
Surrounded by his teammates in the visitors’ locker room of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, he lauded his defense for holding Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense to 20 points. He celebrated the Vikings’ tenacity and resilience.
And in fitting fashion, he capped it off with an impassioned rendition of his iconic, “You like that?!”
The story of Cousins’ NFL career is quite unique. In March of 2018, he made headlines by signing a fully guaranteed deal with the Vikings that paid him $84 million over three seasons, the most lucrative guaranteed deal in NFL history.
The Vikings obviously felt that they got their guy – the quarterback who would give them the chance to compete for a championship. But at that point, Cousins was still somewhat of an unproven star.
He’d only started for three full seasons with the Washington Redskins, two of which came under the franchise tag. And his numbers were good, but not stellar. He threw for quite a few yards and touchdowns, but every year saw double-digit interception totals as well.
His only playoff appearance consisted of a mediocre performance that ended in a not-so-close loss to the Green Bay Packers. It’s fair to say that the Minnesota front office took a bit of a gamble on Cousins.
His 2018 campaign wouldn’t have been classified as disappointing for any normal quarterback: 4,298 yards, 30 TDs, 10 INTs, and a 99.7 passer rating. But then again, a normal quarterback isn’t guaranteed nearly $30 million a year.
Vikings fans were understandably disappointed with an 8-win season that meant Cousins would watch the playoffs from his couch.
Cousins got off to a relatively slow start again this season, but since Week 7, he’s turned it over only four times and has put together a stellar year. For the season, he’s posted a passer rating of 107.4 to go along with 26 TDs, which rank fourth and eighth in the NFL, respectively.
He’s only put up 3,603 yards, but that corresponds to a sharp drop in pass attempts from previous years. And more importantly, the Vikings secured a playoff berth.
But that’s the other problem. A lot has been made of how Cousins can’t perform under pressure. A Week 16 loss to the Green Bay Packers brought his career Monday Night Football record to 0-9, and his critics have charged that the $84 million he’s guaranteed has proven to be a blunder.
That loss to the Packers, though, came without the most essential part of Cousins’ supporting cast: running back Dalvin Cook. Rushing for over 1,100 yards and catching more than 50 passes out of the backfield, Cook has been the perfect complement to Cousins’ play.
That was on full display Sunday in New Orleans.
In a game in which Cook ran for 94 yards and added 2 touchdowns, Cousins was able to play within himself. He threw the ball a modest 31 times for 242 yards and a touchdown, avoiding turning it over in the process.
And when it counted the most, he was spectacular. On the first drive of overtime, he marched the Vikings’ offense down the field in style. He completed four of five passes for 63 yards, including a 43-yard gem to receiver Adam Thielen and a perfect fade to tight end Kyle Rudolph for the game-winning touchdown.
So, it’s no surprise that Cousins was pumped up after the game. Not many people believed Minnesota had the firepower to compete with the Saints, but he and his teammates certainly proved the doubters wrong. It was a statement win, a giant “You like that?!” to his haters.
Will Cousins and the Vikings continue to ride this energy into San Francisco?
We’ll have to wait and see.