Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and the pursuit of perfection

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The result was good. The process was bad. That’s what quarterback Kirk Cousins kept going back to after the Vikings upset the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football earlier this week.

There was a particular play before halftime during which Cousins hung in the pocket against a zero blitz, then unleashed a deep pass to rookie receiver Jordan Addison downfield.

It probably should have been intercepted as cornerback Charvarius Ward undercut the throw while it was in the air. Instead, Addison ripped it away from Ward at the last second, kept his balance in the open field, and raced toward the end zone for a 60-yard touchdown. He hit the Michael Jordan shrug as he crossed the goal line for good measure.

“I thought it was getting picked,” Cousins said of the pass. “I still don’t know how Jordan came away with it.”

Looking back on it roughly 48 hours later, as much as Cousins made sure to praise Addison for bailing him out, he couldn’t get over the fact that he put the Vikings in a precarious position.

“I hate watching plays that go our way where I felt like we were fortunate,” Cousins said. “Because I don’t feel we were good enough.”

It’s pretty easy to see why Cousins has repeatedly gone on record saying the game he loves torments him at every turn. You would have a hard time finding a quarterback who is harder on himself than Cousins. He doesn’t like to celebrate if he feels that he wasn’t at his best.

The pursuit of perfection is a blessing and a curse for Cousins, who, at 35 years old, has already played in the NFL for much longer than most predicted.

“I think that self-critique is why I’m still standing here talking in Year 12,” he said. “I also think it’s why sometimes I feel like this game is a grind.”

Though some players can effortlessly turn the page, Cousins obsesses over the minutiae on a weekly basis, regardless of whether the Vikings win or lose.

Never mind that he played out of his mind on Monday Night Football, staring down a menacing defensive front, and completing 35 of 45 passes for 378 yards and a pair of touchdowns. As he reflected on his performance, Cousins found himself thinking about his underthrown pass to Addison. He had trouble letting himself off the hook even if it worked out in his favor.

“From my standpoint, and what I can control, I’m saying, ‘I’ve got to be better,’ ” Cousins said. “There is some level of, ‘We got away with one.’ I don’t love living like that for too long because I don’t feel like it’s sustainable.”

On the flip side, if Cousins feels like he did everything right on a play that doesn’t go his way, he struggles to give himself grace. The duality of his own expectations isn’t lost on him.

“I don’t sleep too well,” he admitted. “You know, I kind of get tormented either way, I guess, which is why it’s tough.”

It hasn’t gotten any easier for Cousins with time as he constantly is trying to be the best version of himself. If star receiver Justin Jefferson has to to slow down for a ball in space, for example, Cousins will pour over it on the sideline afterward, lamenting that his throw didn’t hit his receiver in stride. As far as he’s concerned, there’s always room for improvement.

“You’re never really just going out there and shrugging the shoulders and playing careless,” Cousins said. “You’re playing with so much care that there’s always evaluating and self-critiquing,”

It has been a balancing act for Cousins throughout his career. How does he continue to push himself while also making sure to enjoy the moment? He noted that it helps to have someone like Jefferson as his locker mate at TCO Performance Center.

“He kind helps me see, ‘There’s another approach to it,’ ” Cousins said. “You can just kind of go out there and have fun.”

That was on display while Cousins was conducting a postgame interview with ESPN on Monday. As he answered questions, Cousins got interrupted by Jefferson racing in to place a chain around his neck in celebration. It provided a few seconds of pure joy from Cousins as he got to bask in leading the Vikings to a big win.

“There’s honestly more relief when we win,” Cousins said. “You want to get to a place where it’s not just relief.”

The pursuit of perfection continues.

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