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Achilles injury isn't the end of Kirk Cousins' football road

Cousins talked on Friday for the first time since tearing his Achilles in Green Bay

EAGAN — When Kirk Cousins tore his Achilles, he tried to speak it out of existence.

After going to the cold Lambeau Field ground amidst a Minnesota Vikings 24-10 victory in which Cousins was playing one of his best career games, center Garrett Bradbury picked him up. When he went to take a step and it felt like the ground sunk underneath him. At first, he thought it was a sprained ankle. He’s had sprained ankles before. It’s not fun but something he could rehab and continue to play. When he couldn’t feel his foot, he wondered if it was a nerve issue. Could he play without feeling his foot? Sure, why not?

When Cousins reached the sideline, he told the team doctor Chris Coetzee that he didn’t think he tore his Achilles. He described what he was feeling in his right ankle and Dr. Coetzee knew right away that he did. When they went into the medical tent, Cousins was still in denial, hoping that the doctor would give him good news and he could throw his sock and shoe back on and head back out onto the Green Bay grass. Instead it took about 0.5 seconds for the doctor to give him the bad news.

He sat inside the tent for a few moments in shock, waiting for the cart. When it arrived and he hopped on, Cousins wanted to have it known by his teammates that he was still expecting them to win. He relayed the message. Don’t come back to that locker room without a win, he told them. Winning there is too special to let a two touchdown lead slip away.

As Cousins rode in the cart, he looked out at the field. He wondered if that was the last time he was going to play football. The emotions hit harder that any pass rusher. Keep in mind, he’s never been hurt like this. He never misses games. He never has surgeries. Cousins has taken many hits and has always gotten back up. When he arrived back home from Green Bay, he Googled the five stages of grief.

“I don’t think it’s stages, I think all five just swirl all at once,” Cousins said on Friday at TCO Performance Center.

The next stage was surgery. Cousins suddenly became an Achilles expert, talking to teammates Cam Akers and Brian O’Neill, who have both been through it before. O’Neill described the recovery to him as being like the stock market — lots of ups and downs. Akers gave him encouragement about the evolving science and reduced recovery times, saying that he was back in five months when it happened to him in 2021.

Cousins is looking to Aaron Rodgers’ recover for inspiration as well. Rodgers has said that he’s going to play again this year after tearing his Achilles in Week 1. But Cousins is aware that he doesn’t have to do anything drastic in his rehab. It’s quite a while until the offseason program of OTAs, minicamp and training camp to start up again.

He’s determined to be there, wherever “there” might be. In the days following his injury, Cousins determined that he was not going to retire.

“I just believe there is more to the story up ahead,” Cousins said. “I believe that to the core of my being. I don’t know what that will be.”

Everyone wants to know the plan for Cousins after this season. When general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah talked following the trade deadline, he noted that Cousins has a younger body than what you would expect from someone his age because of the lack of injuries through his career but also acknowledged that the team’s appreciation for Cousins as a quarterback won’t be the only determining factor as to whether he returns in 2024. Everything is economics in the NFL. There are prices and projections.

Cousins gets that too. He’s aware that a return isn’t entirely in his hands but he would prefer that to be the case. When he was in Washington, his goal was to be a one-team quarterback. When he arrived in Minnesota, he was hoping it would go so well that he would be thought of as a one-team QB with the Vikings.

“Certainly that desire hasn’t changed,” Cousins said. “That’s still the same, and there’s a lot that’s out of my control, so you can want a lot of things, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”

When players use the phrase “one day at a time,” we usually tune out. In this case, it’s what Cousins has to live. He’s spending his days at TCO Performance Center going to meetings with the other quarterbacks and then rehabbing while they do other meetings and going home to continue rehab with his personal trainer Chad Cook when the team goes out to practice. Head coach Kevin O’Connell is giving him assignments to look at certain situations and give him feedback about the opposing defensive coordinators and coverage looks that he may have seen before. He’s trying to be there for starter Josh Dobbs as much as he can.

Watching football on Sundays has been hard.

“It’s a tough deal to sit there on Sunday and watch,” Cousins said. “I know I need to watch and want to watch, but you get to Sunday night and the last game is played, it hits you that you weren’t out there, and you watch other quarterbacks play, and that’s tough, but so many players go through it. It’s part of the deal. I’m no different. You believe that there are better days ahead and opportunities up ahead.”

Cousins will soon be well enough to travel with the team and be on the sidelines as they head into a stretch where they have an opportunity to reach the postseason with Dobbs at the helm.

Cousins will be dealing with a range of emotions as he watches a team that truly became his over the last two years fight for the playoffs with someone else leading them. He admitted to being clenching his fists during prayer sessions out of frustration over the situation.

“I’m still mad,” he said. “I’m still disappointed. But you go back to the things you know. I can’t change it. Gotta move forward.”

On Thursday night Cousins got a message from the Vikings team clinician that said, “when you face adversity like this, you’ll look back down the road and many times you’re better because of it, not in spite of it.”

That was the right message for him. Where this injury is going to take him is not clear but he wants to be better for it.

“That’s kind of the way I want to look at it and you kind of have to check back in five years and say, ‘what happened?’ Until then, you’re just on the journey,” he said.