“At some point, you're not going to be able to run the ball for 180 yards, even with the best running back in the NFL,” he said. “That's when you have to be able to throw the ball. … You have to be able to hit the deep balls.”
Thielen tried to walk those comments back a bit Monday, but there is no doubt that many people in Minnesota have not been satisfied with the Vikings’ blockbuster 2018 free agent signing. After a strong start to last season, Cousins has looked, well, off. Over his past 12 games, he has thrown for more than 250 yards just four times and has yet to do so this season. On Tuesday evening, he offered an apology to Thielen.
“I really want to apologize to [Thielen] because there’s too many opportunities where we could have hit him on Sunday,” Cousins said on KFAN’s “Under Center.” “Postgame when I talk to the media, I always say, ‘Hey, until I watch the film, it’s hard for me to really give you a straight answer.’ Well, now it’s Tuesday night. I’ve watched the film and the reality is there were opportunities for [Thielen].
“The one that’s most obvious is the third-and-10 at the beginning of the game. We’re near midfield. That’s arguably seven points. If you put the ball where it needs to be, he’s shown … that he will make that play and he’ll probably finish the play in the end zone and pull away from the defender.”
That was the only pass thrown Thielen’s way in the first half. It took Cousins 3.44 seconds to unload the ball at Chicago’s 47-yard line. Thielen, with just under two yards of separation, was considered open, but the ball missed his diving attempt at a catch in the end zone. He wasn’t targeted again until midway through the third quarter.
“Adam’s not just a really good player or one of the best players on the Vikings, he’s one of the best players in the NFL, one of the best players in the world, period, regardless of position,” Cousins added. “And so we want to, we need to … I need to get him more opportunities, get him the football.”
In the Star Tribune, columnist Chip Scoggins called Minnesota’s performance against Chicago “putrid” and asked whether this type of dull mediocrity from Cousins was simply the new normal.
“When does anything change?” Scoggins asked. “He’s not a rookie.”
Ouch. Let’s go back to happier times, shall we? Think back to the offseason of 2018.
For months, free agent talk had centered on Cousins, who seemed destined for a divorce with Washington after navigating his way toward free agency. Cousins’s pending decision was predicted to have a domino effect around the league. This turned out to be true. And in that game of dominoes, just about everyone lost.
There were at least seven teams in need of a quarterback that offseason: Arizona, Buffalo, Cleveland, Denver, Jacksonville, the New York Jets, Minnesota and Washington. All were linked to Cousins at one point or another.
The strongest candidate was Minnesota. The Vikings had plenty of cap space, were coming off a 13-3 season and possessed a bevy of skill position stars to stick around a new franchise quarterback. In mid-March, they handed Cousins that historic three-year, $84 million contract.
The Redskins, knowing that they were going to lose Cousins after a multiyear contract saga, tried to be proactive by trading for Alex Smith two months earlier. Kansas City was willing to deal the former No. 1 pick because the Chiefs had young Patrick Mahomes waiting in the wings. Mahomes went on to win the 2018 NFL MVP award, and so the Chiefs appear to be the only true winners of that 2018 veteran quarterback carousel.
Smith, of course, did not last long as Cousins’s replacement in Washington. He broke two bones in his leg in a Week 11 loss to the Houston Texans, and his career remains in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, with Minnesota locked in on Cousins, there were three Vikings quarterbacks on the open market. Case Keenum, coming off a Pro Bowl season, signed a sizable deal with Denver. He lasted one lifeless season before getting dealt to the Redskins to replace Smith. On Sunday, he was yanked in favor of rookie Dwayne Haskins Jr. Not ideal.
After missing out on Cousins and then failing to find success with Keenum, the Broncos turned to Joe Flacco in 2019. He has led the team to a horrid 0-4 start.
Sam Bradford, one of two big-name backups in Minnesota in 2017, wandered to Arizona that offseason, where he signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals. He lasted three games as the starter before rookie first-rounder Josh Rosen took over. (Rosen didn’t last either, getting shipped to Miami after the team took Kyler Murray No. 1 overall in this year’s draft.) Bradford is currently a free agent.
Teddy Bridgewater signed a one-year deal with the Saints and eventually re-upped after an exciting season as Drew Brees’s backup. He’s now the starter in New Orleans after Brees went down with an injury in Week 2.
The Browns, also mentioned as a possible destination for Cousins, traded a third-round pick to Buffalo for Tyrod Taylor. He lost his job to No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield in Week 3 last season. Taylor is now the backup for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Buffalo, without Taylor, signed A.J. McCarron and, if you can believe this, he is no longer Buffalo’s starting quarterback. In fact, he never was. The Bills traded him to Oakland one week into the season, and he is now the backup in Houston.
Jacksonville and the Jets went in different directions to fill their Cousins-sized voids. The Jaguars stuck with Blake Bortles for one more season and then threw a ton of money at Nick Foles. Foles was injured less than an hour into this season. Gardner Minshew II, Jock Strap King, is now running things for the Jaguars.
New York decided to go the draft route, taking Sam Darnold out of USC with the No. 3 overall pick. After an inconsistent rookie season, Darnold is now sidelined with mono and the 0-3 Jets remain a punchline.
And that about sums it up for the sad and strange quarterback carousel triggered by the Cousins free agency. Of the six notable veteran quarterbacks to find new teams that offseason, only two are now starting: Cousins (much to the chagrin of Vikings fans) and Bridgewater (because of injury). The Redskins, who said farewell to Cousins, are an 0-4 disappointment and have played six different quarterbacks in their past 11 games. The Vikings, who welcomed Cousins, are a 2-2 disappointment. And the Broncos and Jets, who failed to land Cousins, are a combined 0-7.