EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — With his first real game for the Minnesota Vikings in the books, Kirk Cousins has another initiation coming this weekend: a visit to Lambeau Field.
Cousins and the Vikings play in Green Bay on Sunday, an earlier than usual contest for control of the NFC North. The only other times since 2000 that the Vikings have faced the Packers on the road in September were the season openers in 2003 and 2008.
For Cousins, well, talk about diving right in.
“It’s a great opportunity to join this rivalry and hopefully put my best foot forward and get off to a great start,” said Cousins, who grew up in the Chicago area and then western Michigan and, thus, has been immersed in one of the NFL’s most storied divisions his whole life as a football follower.
This will be his first playing experience at Green Bay, too. When Washington traveled there in 2013, he was the backup to Robert Griffin III. Now he’ll be the fifth Vikings quarterback to start in the last five visits to Lambeau Field.
“You realize how important it is for this organization, for our fans,” Cousins said Wednesday.
Cousins passed for 244 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover in a smooth Minnesota debut, a 24-16 victory over San Francisco. The downside? All seven of his pass attempts in the fourth quarter, including one throwaway on the final play, were incomplete. That’s uncharacteristic for a quarterback who’s had a strong track record of success late in games, since he became a full-time starter in 2015. He directed two fourth-quarter comeback victories that year, four in 2016 and one in 2017.
“Some quarterbacks have a reputation of doing them,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “Some quarterbacks make it so that they don’t really have to do it in the fourth quarter, too. A lot of times it’s opportunities. A lot of times it’s the team around you. There are so many variables.”
All eyes will be on Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, whose status for Sunday will be a mystery until pregame warmups . So Cousins could fly a little lower on the radar for this one than his normal front-and-center situation after signing his $84 million, fully guaranteed contract with the Vikings this year. The circumstances were different, but Cousins already has two strong performances against the Packers on his resume.
Though Washington lost that playoff game at home on Jan. 10, 2016, Cousins completed 29 of 46 passes for 329 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. The following season when Green Bay returned to FedEx Field, Cousins went 21 for 30 for 375 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a victory.
“I’ve taken a lot of steps as a player and in my confidence,” Cousins said, reflecting on his progress since those matchups. “So I think that’s true of all of us in the league. The longer we play, the more we’re out there, the more we’re able to be in the fire and playing through mistakes and learning, it helps us be that much better the next time we go out.”
The Vikings are pleased to be the beneficiaries.
“The last two years, we’ve had a new quarterback by Week 2,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “The last few years we’ve been in a situation with a new quarterback that we didn’t get many reps with during the offseason. It is nice to be out there with a guy we’ve been working with since the middle of April and build a rapport with.”