Kirk Cousins’ Leadership No Longer in Question

Photo: Jeffrey Becker - USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings snagged another late-game victory from the jaws of defeat on Thanksgiving night vs the New England Patriots. Kirk Cousins, though he might want a few of his throws back, had one of the best performances of his career.

He was 30 of 37 for 299 yards and 3 touchdowns. Much like we’ve seen all season, poor throws and mistakes that happened early in the game didn’t stop Cousins from making huge throws and taking necessary risks late.

And he did it against one of the best defenses Bill Belichick has ever coached and arguably the best in the NFL entering Thursday night. How? Because Kirk Cousins is a different quarterback in 2022. Gone are the days of huge numbers piled up by risk-averse throws that don’t win games. Here to stay is a leader who’s willing to do whatever it takes to pile up victories. Even if it means a downturn in his own statistics.

Kirk Cousins becomes Kirko Chainz

2022 Kirk Cousins (AKA: Kirko Chainz) trusts his game prep, his talent and, most importantly, Justin Jefferson. But there’s one change in this new version of Kirk Cousins that stands out above the rest and that’s his ability to lead an NFL locker room.

No starting NFL QB has had more questions surrounding his leadership than Cousins, especially when you consider his decade-long status as a QB1. That includes his time in both Minnesota and DC. From his tug-of-war with Robert Griffin Jr to his jab battle last year with Mike Zimmer and Vikings media, Kirk has struggled to emerge as a leader of any professional locker room he’s thrown footballs for.

TJ Hockenson Praises Cousins’ Leadership

But those days are over. Because Kirk Cousins is the absolute leader of the 2022 Minnesota Vikings and everyone knows it. From executives, to coaches and his teammates. There’s no doubt who runs this show. TJ Hockenson, who was just traded from Detroit a few weeks ago, praised Kirk’s leadership style after Thursday’s win.

“The guy is special in the fact he truly is a leader. He truly is one of those guys who will take a shot, get back up and say, ‘That wasn’t on you, it was on me.’ To have a guy like that lead the huddle is special. It gives you a sense of confidence and a sense of poise that’s rare to be around. I’ve been around a couple guys like that but to have a guy like that in the huddle… Winning games starts with him. Going through this whole process, it starts with him.” — TJ Hockenson on Kirk Cousins (quote via The Athletic)

O’Connell Empowers Kirk

And this new version of Kirk Cousins, the leader of men version, comes to us thanks to new head coach, Kevin O’Connell, and his insistence on bringing out the best in his QB1. O’Connell wasted no time propping Kirk up to media, teammates and pretty much anybody who has asked about Cousins’ ability to win big games and lead a team to the promised land.

This is a stark change to what Cousins is used to, when you consider this tumultuous relationship with both Jay Gruden, while in Washington, and Mike Zimmer, after he arrived in Minnesota. Neither coach fully trusted or believed that Kirk was the guy they needed to lead their locker room. Without that buy in, he struggled in the intangible areas of playing QB for an NFL franchise.

Trickle-Down Effect to Teammates

But now, there’s nobody at TCO Performance Center who believes in #8 more than KOC and Kirk Cousins talked about how much that has empowered him and created a trickle down effect to teammates this season.

“Kevin has empowered me so much; this team has empowered me so much. The guys have just been tremendous. I can’ t say enough about the way that they have had my back after these interceptions, support me all week long, support me pregame in the locker room. Adam [Thielen] came over to me before we kicked off in the locker room and pulled me aside and shared an encouraging word. At times it almost brings me to tears the way these guys support me and have my back. It really adds to the fun of playing and working together.” — Kirk Cousins (quote via the Star Tribune)

The latest example of O’Connell’s empowerment of Cousins came via the head coach’s postgame locker room speech following the Vikings’ Thanksgiving victory over the Patriots. He made sure to call out the haters who believe Kirk Cousins cannot perform in prime time games.

As long as KOC is around to instill confidence in Kirk, the sky will be the limit for the Minnesota Vikings.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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