GLENDALE, ARIZ. — There will be a temptation to take mental snapshots of Vikings kicker Greg Joseph putting his hands on his helmet as his game-winning field goal attempt sailed wide right and rue the history of kickers in purple. Resist. That file cabinet is already full.
Instead, what should be remembered from Sunday's 34-33 shot to the solar plexus is Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins making plays, captaining long drives and even trying on Kyle Murray's life for size as No. 8 did everything he could to put the Vikings in a position to defeat the Cardinals.
As Joseph jogged on the field, Cousins walked off the field with four seconds remaining, the end of a day in which he was 22 of 32 for 244 yards, three touchdowns, a 122.4 passer rating and 35 rushing yards to boot.
It wasn't Cousins who missed an extra point that had his coach plotting a two-point conversion later in the game. It wasn't Cousins who was responsible for the busted coverage that led to a 77-yard touchdown pass from Murray to Rondale Moore in the second quarter. It wasn't Cousins who gave up 17 points in the second quarter after the offense propelled the Vikings to a 20-7 lead.
It was Cousins, however, who, with 2 minutes, 9 seconds remaining in the game, moved the team from its own 25-yard line to the Cardinals 20 for a potential game-winning field goal.
"I thought Cousins played extremely well," said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who doesn't always sing his quarterback's praises.
The Vikings scored 23 points in the first half as Cousins went 13 of 15 for 150 yards with touchdown throws to K.J. Osborn, Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. He masterminded a beautiful drive in the second quarter that revealed just how good the unit can be when it's not committing 10 penalties in a half.
This is how the Vikings took a 14-7 lead in the game: runs of 16 and 14 yards by Dalvin Cook, a 14-yard pass to Cook, a 5-yard pass to Thielen, a 6-yard run by Cousins, a 3-yard pass to Cook, a 7-yard run by Cook, a 3-yard run by Alexander Mattison and finally a 7-yard pass to Thielen.
That's 75 yards, no negative yardage. No penalties. Just precision. And all three of their first-half touchdowns came on drives in which they never faced a third down. Kyler Cousins even had a 29-yard scramble during the game.
"You gotta have time to get through the progression to do that," Cousins said. "Even with the longer run, I'm progressing through, saying no to a bunch of people and then going. The fact you have that kind of protection is what enabled me to be able to run."
This is no attempt to place Cousins on the pedestal of elite quarterbacks. He is a good quarterback who is capable of operating at a high level and triggering a few explosive plays along the way, like his 64-yard touchdown pass to Osborn off play action on the second snap of the game. Cousins has never been a top-five quarterback. He is someone who had market forces in his favor when he became a free agent and the Vikings were needy. The result: an average salary of $33 million and matching expectations that might be a little unfair.
The offense on Sunday — while acknowledging Nick Vigil's pick-six — is what the Vikings should aim for every week, given their skill position advantage. Cousins has thrown for 595 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions through two games. You can always look to score more points, and Cousins even spoke after the game of missing more opportunities to do so. Nothing wrong with being greedy.
But there are other areas the 0-2 Vikings need to address before they welcome Russell Wilson and the Seahawks to U.S. Bank Stadium next Sunday. The defense could use a healthy Anthony Barr and tighten up its secondary play. And the team will spend the week supporting Joseph as he moves on from a tough moment.
But Cousins isn't the problem.
For now, get off Capable Kirk.