Mike Zimmer says Vikings' effort on offense in Week 3 best he's seen in 8 years in Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS -- After the Minnesota Vikings earned their first win of the season by way of a 30-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, coach Mike Zimmer made a substantial declaration about his team's offense.

"I told the team that it's the best offensive performance that I've seen in the eight years that I've been here," Zimmer said. "Kirk (Cousins) played outstanding. I thought (Alexander) Mattison ran the ball well, the offensive line blocked great. Tight ends, receivers blocked great in the run game but also in the passing game. Very, very proud of the way that they performed today."

Zimmer's comments came on a day the Vikings (1-2) were without star running back Dalvin Cook due to an ankle injury. In Cook's place, third-year back Mattison reached 112 yards rushing, his second career 100-yard outing (the other also came against Seattle, in 2020), and added 59 yards receiving.

Mattison said he found out "sooner than everybody else" that Cook would be unable to play in Week 3 and had to prepare his body differently throughout the week for a spike in first-team practice reps and the 32 touches he accounted for Sunday.

But perhaps the most impressive part of Minnesota's turnaround has been the play of Cousins, whose eight passing touchdowns to zero interceptions and 73.9% completion percentage make up the best three-game start of his career.

"It's been a different Kirk," wide receiver Adam Thielen said. "He's just locked in and on time, he's trusting it. I think a big part of that is our O-line and the way they're blocking and giving him enough time to sit back there and make his reads."

Cousins went 30-of-38 for 323 yards and three touchdowns with a passer rating of 128.4 against Seattle. For a second straight week, the quarterback threw three TD passes in the first half, and he now has 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the first halves of his past 10 games.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, Cousins' 200 passing attempts without an interception are one shy of the Vikings' franchise record of 201, which he set in 2019. He's the ninth quarterback in NFL history with 14 or more passing touchdowns and zero interceptions over a five-game regular-season stretch and the first to achieve that feat since the year Lamar Jackson won MVP honors in 2019.

Despite losses at Cincinnati and Arizona, Cousins had the Vikings in position for walk-off wins in back-to-back weeks. A fumble by Cook in overtime allowed the Bengals to come back and kick a game-winning field goal, and kicker Greg Joseph was wide right on a 37-yard attempt in Week 2.

Against the Seahawks, Cousins came through and kept the offense on the field for nearly 36 minutes while the team converted 9 of 14 third-down attempts. Cousins' 918 passing yards are the third most through the first three games of the season by any quarterback in franchise history.

"I think he's playing outstanding," Zimmer said. "But not only that, he's playing with a lot of confidence. I really appreciate the leadership that he's been doing lately. It's been so much better, something he wanted to work on. He's done a great job with that. He's very confident where he's throwing the football. He's very confident with these receivers. I think the offensive line has helped him do some of those things as well."

That confidence in his receivers showed up in the form of Justin Jefferson catching nine passes for 118 yards and a touchdown and Cousins launching a 15-yard pass to K.J. Osborn while fighting off a Seattle blitz -- a highlight-reel throw that was the talk of postgame media availability.

"It was an outstanding play, because he was going to get rocked, and he knew it," Zimmer said.

Talk of the differences in Cousins' leadership in his fourth season in Minnesota has been routine throughout the Vikings' up-and-down start to the season.

What might those changes in the quarterback boil down to?

"He has a little more swag to him this year actually," Mattison said. "Being around Jet (Jefferson) in the locker room, the lockers are switched around a little bit. He has a little more swag to him. He's one of those playmakers, he always has been that way. He's just stepped up even more honing in on his craft and making everyone better around him. Huge credit to Kirk for the way he played today and the way he led us.

"Some of the stuff he says, it's pretty funny just coming from him. He's definitely opened up a little bit and it's awesome to see. Even how he runs and scrambles, it's a little different than it was before. He's just taking the reins and he's an amazing leader."

And while his teammates have praised him for his leadership and demeanor, Cousins defines his "swag" differently than those around him.

"(Former Washington offensive coordinator) Kyle Shanahan used to say that my swag was having no swag," Cousins said jokingly. "He told me as a rookie to never change. When I came out for my first preseason game he said my jersey looked so big it looked like I was wearing a Halloween costume. Someone said something about, 'You should get a different face mask and a better jersey and this or that, wear your socks different,' and Kyle cut him off and said, 'No, his swag is having no swag.' I like it that way. I kind of laugh because there's a hint of truth in the joke."