The low point in the Vikings' 2020 season and Kirk Cousins' 2020 season arrived in the same game: a 40-23 loss to the lowly Falcons in Week 6, during which Cousins threw three interceptions.
After that game, the Vikings' record stood at 1-5. Cousins had thrown 11 touchdowns with 10 interceptions, dooming the team's chances in multiple turnover-prone games. And after that performance, Cousins said this:
"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. ... There's a little bit of, you've got to improve. Whether it's them telling me, 'Hey we gotta improve,' or them pulling me, we've got to get better."
Cousins' play warranted at least an in-game benching. But as I talked about on Monday's Daily Delivery podcast, his honest assessment of his own play was also disingenuous in the big picture.
In his first three seasons here, Cousins was in no real danger of being replaced because, frankly, his backups were 1) clear downgrades and 2) not players that Vikings coaches or management were invested in long-term.
In 2018, Trevor Siemian was the backup. The last two seasons, it was Sean Mannion. Both of them had clear roles, and that was to support Cousins and to — in an emergency such as an injury — replace him. The only time either saw any action was Mannion in 2019 when he started the regular-season finale with the Vikings resting their starters.
For the most part, Cousins hasn't given the Vikings a reason to bench him. And even after that horrid start to 2020, punctuated by that three-interception game against the Falcons, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer gave a quick "no" to a question about whether he thought about removing him.
Cousins rallied after the bye, throwing 24 touchdown passes with just three interceptions while the Vikings at least made things interesting down the stretch — going 6-4 in their last 10 games and eliminating the "Tank for Trevor" chatter.
All that said: The moment Cousins struggles for the first time in 2021 — as all players, even the best ones, do — there will be a different feeling with Kellen Mond on the sidelines.
Assuming Mond is at least ready enough now to be the Vikings' second-string QB in 2021, having a third-round pick behind Cousins changes the dynamic. Now there is someone fans (and presumably, at least eventually, Vikings decisionmakers) want to see. Now there is someone younger, with a different skill set — the ability to not just throw but run, as evidenced by more than 1,600 career rushing yards at Texas A&M.
With Cousins under contract this year and next season at huge cap numbers, and with him providing overall above-average play in his three seasons with the Vikings, and with Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman entering an important win-now season ... I don't think Cousins necessarily has to be peeking over his shoulder every time he throws an incompletion or even interception.
Mond's ceiling might be as a backup, if that. Mannion was a third-round pick in 2015 and quickly became a journeyman. But we don't know about Mond yet, and that makes him interesting. Potential is seductive, especially in a young backup quarterback playing behind a polarizing starter.
For the first time since Cousins arrived, there is a player behind him who could take his job someday. It's not a first-round pick like the Aaron Rodgers/Jordan Love tsunami whipping through Green Bay right now, but it is something that will make 2021 feel different than the previous three seasons.