Dane Mizutani: If this is the end, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins deserved better

Kirk Cousins showed tremendous strength when everybody would have forgiven him had he shown tremendous weakness instead.

After getting helped onto the cart on Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field, more than likely knowing at that point that he had suffered a torn Achilles tendon, Cousins provided a heartwarming moment that has since gone viral on social media.

The cameras caught him putting on a beanie, looking up at the big screen and taking a few seconds to cheer on his teammates.

It was the personification of leadership, continuing to lift everybody else around him, even in his darkest hour.

That’s who Kirk Cousins is. That’s who Kirk Cousins has always been.

It’s hard to believe he might have played his final snap with the Vikings after tearing his Achilles tendon on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

If this is the end, Cousins deserved better. He was a punchline for far too long. He has proven to be much more than that throughout his tenure in Minnesota.

As soon as Cousins signed an unprecedented contract to join the Vikings on March 15, 2018, he became a polarizing figure. There was a group that loved Cousins and thought he could do nothing wrong. There was a group that hated Cousins and thought he could do nothing right.

Truthfully, he existed somewhere in the middle, boasting a 50-37-1 record as a starter for the Vikings, with his lone playoff win coming against the New Orleans Saints on the road.

The latter is something many critics rightfully hammered home when talking about Cousins. He was supposed to be the guy who got the franchise over the hump, and because he hasn’t won a Super Bowl, or really even come close, he has been marginalized at seemingly every turn.

Many wondered if the Vikings were capable of accomplishing their ultimate goal with Cousins at the helm. This columnist is as guilty as anybody when to comes to pushing that narrative.

Sometimes it was fair. Sometimes it was low-hanging fruit.

Looking back on it now, however, Cousins probably hasn’t gotten enough credit for what he has done for the Vikings since taking over under center. You can do a heck of a lot worse than Cousins and that’s not meant to be a slight. It’s a compliment of his skill set more than anything else.

Though he was never going to be in the same conversation as somebody like Patrick Mahomes given the way he plays the position, Cousins has been a very good player in his own right. That is undeniable. He has produced with a level of consistency that can’t be overstated when looking at some of the bad quarterbacks the NFL has to offer.

Then there’s the fact that that Cousins has more or less always been available for the Vikings. His durability has been remarkable throughout his career as he has rarely even showed up on the injury report. It had gotten to a point that it almost didn’t compute when the Vikings confirmed on Monday he indeed had torn his Achilles tendon.

Still, as important as both of those qualities are in the grand scheme of things, the biggest thing Cousins has brought is leadership. He has earned the respect of every player in the Vikings locker room largely because of how he carries himself on a daily basis. That much is clear simply listening to the way his teammates have talked about him in his absence.

Frankly, it will be weird to watch the Vikings take on the Atlanta Falcons this weekend without Cousins on the field, As much as he has become a lightning rod for criticism since signing with the Vikings, everybody is about to realize that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

Maybe some of us shouldn’t have taken him for granted.

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