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Kirk Cousins wondered if he would play again after injury

"One thought went through my head, 'Will I ever play football again?'"

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins admitted that he wondered if his Achilles injury would be career ending.

Cousins was a guest on The Adam Schefter Podcast Tuesday and said, "One thought went through my head, 'Will I ever play football again?' You know, I'm an older guy, free agent, is there a market? I didn't know. I believe I will, and I believe it will be there but you wonder."

The 35-year-old quarterback suffered an Achilles tear late in the Vikings' Week 8 win over the Green Bay Packers. Cousins was in the midst of, what some consider, the best season of his career despite the team's poor start. Before his injury, Cousins had thrown for 2,331 yards, 18 touchdowns and just five interceptions while completing 69.5% of his passes.

On what popping his Achilles felt like, Cousins described the moment as "not overly painful" and said "once it tears, it tears and the pain's over."

Oct 29, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) gets a pass away while under pressure from Green Bay Packers linebacker Kenny Clark (97) in the first quarter at Lambeau Field.

Oct 29, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) gets a pass away while under pressure from Green Bay Packers linebacker Kenny Clark (97) in the first quarter at Lambeau Field.

"I thought Rashan Gary had stepped his cleats right on my heel," Cousins continued. "I get stepped on all the time. In the San Francisco game, only two weeks before [the Achilles injury], the most painful thing in that game is that I got stomped on on my left foot. I was having a hard time the next day, at home, walking around normal because my toes were so sore from getting stomped on. 

"I just thought it was another one of those moments, just happened to be my heel. Didn't think I tore it until I got up, Garrett Bradbury helped pick me up, and then I put weight on my right foot and it felt like Lambeau Field went down with my foot."

The 12-year veteran had never missed a game due to injury in his career, so missing time during the season was bound to be a transition.

"It just kind of hit me that, even in the short term, this was going to be very, very different for the last eight, nine weeks of the regular season," Cousins said. "The first away game was difficult, to not make the trip. I felt all day Saturday, and all day Sunday, that I was in the wrong place. I was right where I needed to be but it didn't feel like it."

Minnesota has mostly treaded water since Cousins was lost for the season, going 3-3 and remaining in the NFC playoff race with just three games left in the season. Cousins said his recovery has been a "gradual process" of getting motion and daily, quality of life back. He also hopes to be "back on the sidelines for a game here soon."

Unlike the much talked about return of New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, there has been no timetable placed on Cousins' return.

"I think Dr. (Chris) Coetzee, who did the surgery, and our training staff are pretty hesitant to put any timelines on it because then it kind of holds them to that," Cousins said. "They're a little hesitant to put defined deals around it. It's just different checkpoints. The next time I meet with the surgeon will probably be late January-early February and he expects that to sort of be the transition from walking to running, or jogging."

The Vikings QB laughed off the possibility of returning if the Vikings made the Super Bowl saying, "If they make it to the Super Bowl without me, they're probably not going to want to play me in that game."

Cousins was quick to point out there's no need to rush a return. "We have a lot of time. You know, we have until next September. ... I would love to be back and miss as few practices in the spring as possible."

On his eventual return, the four-time Pro Bowler noted it doesn't hurt that he's a 'pocket-passer' and that he can "basically do my job from the pocket without too much of an Achilles to begin with."

And despite his age and pending free agency, Cousins believes his best football is still ahead of him.

"I think the game is so much mental. It's so much on past experiences," Cousins said. "I heard Tom Brady comment when asked why he still wanted to play at 41 or 42 and he would say, 'I've spent my whole life in football to get to this point where I know defenses. I know the blitzes. I know the checks. I've seen them all that many times it'd be a shame if I'm the best version of myself but my arm can no longer do it, or the physical side can no longer do it. Because the mental side, and even the emotional, is the best it's ever been.'

"I think I'm at that stage now too where I'll be 36 next season and the sheer time on task and the volume of reps would suggest I'll be at my best as long as the physical can do it too. I'm working really hard, not only with the Achilles but with my whole body, with my bodywork guy Chad Cook, to try to make sure I still have my fastball and I can still play at the level I did when I was 26. I believe I can do that."

Cousins isn't willing to start looking at playing in his 40s like Brady did saying he's "learned to take it one year at a time."

"I probably don't think much past my age-36 season. If I can still do it physically, I'm still enjoying the game and I feel I have a contribution to make to a team, I feel it would be hard for me to walk away. I love football. Love the challenge. We'll cross that bridge when we get there."

With a contract that is set to expire at the end of the season, and facing free agency for the first time since 2018, Cousins is quick to say he wants to stay in Minnesota.

"I would love to be back in Minnesota. Hopefully we can make that happen. Tends to be more of a February-March conversation. This is more, right now, about finishing the football season," Cousins said.