MINNEAPOLIS — It wasn't looking good for beleaguered quarterback Kirk Cousins.
After stumbling figuratively last week with a poor performance in Green Bay, Cousins took plenty of flak for a few questionable decisions that helped seal the Vikings' fate in a 21-16 road loss many thought to be winnable.
Then, Kirk Cousins took the opening snap against Oakland on Sunday, Sept. 22, turned to fake a handoff and literally stumbled to the ground for a 4-yard loss.
Not a pretty start for an athlete who was much more openly self-critical and candid than most after botching the fourth quarter against the Packers.
“I’m not going to be playing quarterback here if I play the way I did this past Sunday for much longer,” Cousins told the media Wednesday. “So, I understand that, and I look forward to getting out there and playing at a much higher level.”
Here's the thing: Minnesota proved in its opener it doesn't need Cousins to play at a much higher level. Most fans understand that, despite being the owner of an $84 million contract, the Vikings don't need their quarterback to be the gunslinging savior of their franchise.
The offense continued to hum along against Jon Gruden's Raiders, thanks to 211 yards earned on the ground. Running backs Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison formed a formidable one-two punch, each finding the end zone. Even receiver Adam Thielen got in on the act, scoring on a jet sweep.
The difference a week makes can be found in Cousins. Simply put, he placed a premium on ball control, not throwing into the teeth of the Oakland defense and avoiding momentum-shifting turnovers.
You know, like the back-foot heave on first and goal that landed in the arms of one of two Packers defending Stefon Diggs last week.
In the end, Cousins stayed disciplined against Oakland. Minnesota had three drives that chewed more than four minutes apiece off the clock. Cousins made the smart plays to keep moving the chains — the Vikings only had to punt twice. And, most crucially, Cousins did not turn the ball over.
"I thought Cousins played very well today," Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said. "He used his feet, took care of the ball."
His teammates were quick to compliment his performance, too.
"We are always going to rally around him and do everything we can so he doesn't have to put all the pressure on himself," said tight end Kyle Rudolph. "If we can take the pressure off of him, he just lets his natural ability take over."
Now, nobody is saying Cousins needs to be the NFC's answer to Patrick Mahomes, tossing the ball around for 600 yards and seven touchdowns every game.
All they need him to do is not lose the game.