MINNEAPOLIS – Mike Zimmer didn’t give much thought to whether he would pull Kirk Cousins in the midst of a first half in which the Minnesota Vikings‘ quarterback threw three interceptions that resulted in an eventual 40-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, replying with a simple “no” when asked if he considered making a change.
But although the head coach dispelled any notion over the QB’s job security, Cousins is aware of the consequences that could come if his interception trend picks up following the Vikings’ bye week.
“The reality is if the pace I’m on in terms of the interceptions, if that were to continue, I won’t finish the season,” Cousins said. “I won’t — you know what I mean? There’s a little bit of, you got to improve. Whether it’s them telling me, ‘Hey, we gotta improve,’ or them pulling me; we got to get better. That’s what the rest of the season will be about for me, is trying to protect the football as best I can. Because when you turn the ball over, it really hurts your chances to win. I know that. I just need to improve as we look ahead to the rest of the season.”
The three interceptions Cousins threw before halftime on Sunday were the most he has thrown in a first half in his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Cousins was given a two-year, $66 million extension in March that keeps him under contract in Minnesota through the 2022 season. In six games, the 32-year-old quarterback leads the NFL with 10 interceptions after tossing just six in 2019.
“I need to correct it,” Cousins said. “I need to finish the season with a different story, regarding the interceptions, so that’s something I need to improve with the remaining games we have. I don’t know that I’d limit it to the interceptions. I think it’s just the entire offensive performance. It’s just, I need to be better, we need to be better.”
Minnesota won the coin toss and started the game on offense. Cousins threw an interception on the first play of the game on a pass intended for rookie Justin Jefferson. Atlanta linebacker Deion Jones returned the ball to the Vikings’ 24-yard line, where the Falcons jumped out to a 7-0 lead after orchestrating a five-play drive that went 29 yards and ended with QB Matt Ryan hitting Julio Jones for a 20-yard touchdown.
From that point, the Vikings were never able to recover and truly test the previously winless Falcons.
“I thought the first one was the worst one, if you will,” Cousins said of his three interceptions. “First play of the game, and the coverage was not confusing. It was just a zone drop, and I simply forced the football into coverage, tried to do too much. That’s a mistake I may have made in Year 1, but I’m disappointed that I would do that now. The second one, third down, saw Cover 2, felt them squeeze Adam (Thielen), doubled Adam, and wanted to replace the squeeze with throwing it to Justin, and the cloud corner jumped it and made a good play. The third one, was just trying to work the bender to (Chad) Beebe. My arm got hit, and obviously it went up in the air and was intercepted.”
Cousins finished the game having completed 24 of 36 passes for 343 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. As the Vikings head into their Week 7 bye with a 1-5 record, the worst start in Minnesota since 2013, the opportunity for introspection and potential changes is on the minds of many within the franchise.
“I think that’s something we need to look at here starting tomorrow when we get back in and figure out where we’re at, where we plan on going and kind of go from there,” Zimmer said.
Jefferson, the receiver Minnesota drafted 22nd overall, reached another career milestone in the loss with his third 100-yard receiving day (166 yards, 2 TDs). The last Vikings rookie to reach that feat was Randy Moss in 1998 (4). Jefferson is also the second player in NFL history with 500 or more receiving yards through his first five career games (537).