Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell Makes Honest Statement on Kirk Cousins Criticism

Kevin O'Connell

Getty The Vikings agreed to terms with North Dakota wide receiver Garett Maag on June 1, according to The Draft Network's Ryan Fowler.

Kirk Cousins‘ reputation is established as an 11th-year veteran — and not much will change that until he starts showing more success in primetime and the postseason.

Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell was well aware of that reputation when he signed on as the team’s head coach in February.

Appearing on one of the NFL’s most listened-to podcasts, O’Connell pushed back against that narrative.

Kevin O’Connell Praises Vikings QB Kirk Cousins for His Mental Toughness

Appearing on the Pat McAfee Show 2.0 on October 11, McAfee addressed Cousins’ lack of success in primetime and asked O’Connell what the biggest surprise he’s seen of Cousins, who is off to his best career start with the Vikings at 4-1 despite their needing late-game heroics their past three wins.

“Obviously, outside looking in, the conversation about Kirk is vastly different from what is happening right now,” McAfee said. “The narrative about Kirk is always going to be the narrative about Kirk for whatever reason… no matter how many plays he makes.”

McAfee’s question: “What have you learned about Kirk this season that has made you like, ‘This guy we can win a Super Bowl with and we’re going to?'”

“His demonstration of the mental toughness to play this position. It’s not always going to be perfect. I know for sure I can be a lot better for him and put him in situations and offensive flows in the game where he can just play quarterback and use his talent and ability and experience to have it all come to life,” O’Connell said. “But just his mental toughness — the ebbs and flows in a game to be at his best at the end of games. Quite honestly, our consistency hasn’t been the best as a football team.

“Ultimately, it’s just been a positive to know we’ve trailed in the fourth quarter in some games that we’ve ended up winning because of our guys and their ability to make plays and Kirk leading the way,” O’Connell added. “Hopefully, we can continue to develop that consistency for four quarters, but we do know, in the back of our minds, we’ve now confirmed that we can win a game despite losing the lead in the fourth quarter.”

Vikings Are Learning to Win Again

The new Vikings regime of general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell decided to keep the team largely intact — betting they could get more out of the roster than Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer did.

And through five weeks, it’s worked. Minnesota is off to its best start since 2016. However, periods in each of their past three wins over the Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears, have had that shadow of the team’s past late-game blunders.

In 2021, the Vikings had 14 games decided by a single possession, including six games that were decided by less than a touchdown. The defense was historically horrible in closing games despite Cousins leading numerous potential game-winning drives. Minnesota’s defense allowed touchdowns on 32.4% of opponent drives in the final four minutes of each half, the worst percentage allowed since 2000, according to Warren Sharp.

O’Connell has continued to preach consistency as the Vikings had to fend off a resurgent Bears team that scored 19 points unanswered in the second half of last week’s 29-22 win. However, the defense has made stops when they needed to several times this year, which offers encouragement as the team continues to adopt new systems from both O’Connell and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.

“The offense, whenever we needed it, they show up. We need to do more on the defensive side to help them out, where they don’t have to do that every game,” Smith said. “But it is pretty special what they’re doing, Harrison Smith said in a locker room interview after the win over the Bears.

“If you can learn while you’re winning, that’s pretty awesome. It doesn’t happen all the time. I think that kind of shows you how good we can be. We’re just scratching the surface,” Smith added. “We need to get better but we’re going to savor these wins. They’re hard to come by. Look around the league every week. Stuff happens that you don’t think should happen. It’s just how it works.”

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