Nearly four years to the day that he really emerged as an NFL quarterback, Kirk Cousins will face his former team.
Cousins will lead the Vikings against Washington on Thursday night at U.S. Bank Stadium. Cousins played for the Redskins from 2012-17, and on Tuesday he pointed to Oct. 25, 2015 as being a critical day in his development.
Cousins was in his first season as Washington’s regular starter. The Redskins began 2-4, and there were doubts about Cousins’ future when they faced Tampa Bay at FedExField.
“Many people thought it should be over for me playing, and then we had that comeback game against the Buccaneers, and I yelled ‘You like that!’ and kind of never looked back,” Cousins said.
Cousins offered that catch phrase — video of it went viral — after the Redskins overcame a 24-0 deficit to win 31-30. Cousins completed 33 of 40 passes for 317 yards and three touchdowns.
“I was given an opportunity to start when there weren’t many people outside of that building who thought I should,” Cousins, a third-round draft pick in 2012, said of his Redskins years. “They stuck by me.”
But Cousins didn’t stick by the Redskins. After playing under one-year franchise tags in 2016 and 2017, he signed a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract with the Vikings in March 2018.
Cousins declined Tuesday to talk about his decision to leave Washington.
“That’s not something I need to get into,” he said.
Cousins downplayed his emotions entering his first game against the Redskins, saying players go against former teams “all the time.” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said “there’s always some emotions” when facing a former team; he said he planned to talk to Cousins about maintaining “focus.”
Cousins was nothing but complimentary about the Redskins (1-6). He said he still keeps up with members of the organization.
“When I think of my time in Washington, I just think of the word gratitude,” he said. “I’m so grateful that I was drafted by them. When 31 other teams hadn’t picked me, the Redskins picked me.
“There are some special coaches and teammates and people in that organization that I’ll relate to the rest of my life. When football’s long over, I’ll still be calling them and texting them.”
While Cousins didn’t name anybody with the Redskins he still keeps up with, Washington running back Chris Thompson said he got a text from him last week.
“It’ll just be good to see him (Thursday), good to talk to him,” Thompson said.
In each of his three seasons as a Washington starter, from 2015-17, Cousins threw for more than 4,000 yards and 25 or more touchdowns. But the Redskins made the playoffs just once during that period, losing in their only appearance in 2015.
In the first year with the Vikings, they missed the playoffs. However, Minnesota is 5-2 this season and has won three straight. Cousins is in the midst of the hottest stretch of his career, passing for 976 yards and 10 touchdowns in the past three games.
“He’s been playing really, really good the last few weeks,” Thompson said. “There was a lot of stuff going on when he was (in Washington), being franchise-tagged twice when we all know he wanted to get a long-term deal done, but we weren’t able to … I made it known back then, when Kirk was here, we both talked about playing together for years. But things happen.”
Since Cousins’ departure, the Redskins have gone 8-15. After starting 0-5 this season, Jay Gruden was replaced as coach on an interim basis by Bill Callahan.
Callahan was the Redskins’ offensive line coach when Cousins was their starter. He also was assistant head coach in 2017.
“When he was here, he was dynamic,” Callahan said. “Obviously, he had a decision to make and he made one (to leave Washington). I’m sure the best decision for him and his family. I’m happy for Kirk and I’m glad that he got what we wanted, and we’re just excited to play against him Thursday.”