Souhan: Cousins gives Vikings a Tarkenton-like edge over Packers

Sunday at Lambeau Field, the Vikings will face the Packers without Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers in their employ for the first time since 1991.

That's right — 1991, when you could take an Eastern Airlines flight to Pittsburgh to watch the Minnesota North Stars play for the Stanley Cup.

But 1991 isn't the only hard-to-fathom date when it comes to quarterbacks in this rivalry.

Sunday, the Vikings might hold their greatest advantage at the quarterback position over the Packers (when their top quarterback is healthy) since the mid-70s.

The Vikings will start Kirk Cousins, who has the second-most passing yards and most touchdown passes in the NFL this season and is coming off perhaps his best game since joining Minnesota — passing for 378 yards and two touchdowns while taking zero sacks against the 49ers' impressive defense on Monday night.

The Packers will start Jordan Love, who ranks 22nd in passing yards and 28th in passer rating, and has lost three straight starts — to division-leading Detroit, and the woeful Raiders and Broncos.

For the first time since 1991, the Vikings will face a Packers team without a future Hall of Fame quarterback on their roster. Yes, this is based on the presumption that Love is not bound for the same career path as Favre and Rodgers.

In 1978, Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton was in his last season with the Vikings, and the Packers were starting David Whitehurst.

From 1979 through 1991, both teams scrambled to find franchise quarterbacks, often settling on pretty good players who can't compare to Favre, Rodgers — or Cousins.

The Packers' primary starters from 1979 through 1991: Whitehurst, Lynn Dickey, Randy Wright, Don Majkowski and Mike Tomczak.

The Vikings' primary starters over the same period: Tommy Kramer, Steve Dils, Wade Wilson and Rich Gannon.

Majkowski was intriguing for a couple of years. Wilson took the Vikings to an NFC title game. Gannon played well in 1992 and later became a star in Oakland.

There were times, from 1979 through 1991, when the Vikings had the better quarterback, but they never in that span had a dramatic advantage like they do this week.

Cousins has had two horrendous moments this season — his goal line pass at Carolina that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown, and his lateral/fumble in Chicago. Otherwise, he has been exceptional.

According to, the Vikings are tied for the third-most dropped passes in the NFL this year, at 12. Until Monday night, when the Vikings' offensive line played well against the 49ers, Cousins has generally been forced to deal with pass-rush pressure. The Vikings have not run the ball well or often.

Despite those disadvantages, Cousins is 2-0 without Justin Jefferson, and twice in the last two years has helped a key receiver acclimate quickly. Last year, tight end T.J. Hockenson had nine catches for 70 yards in his first game with the Vikings; this year, rookie Jordan Addison has caught six touchdown passes in his first seven NFL games.

Addison allowed a 49ers defender to take the ball out of his hands for an interception the first time Cousins threw to him on Monday. The rest of the game, Addison had seven catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns, and drew a pass-interference call in the end zone on a pass that could have resulted in another touchdown had a defender not grabbed Addison's right arm.

Cousins sticking with Addison after that damaging first play won the game. That's leadership. So is rallying a team that many left for dead just three weeks ago.

That's why Hockenson gushes about the guy who wears No. 8.

"It's been incredible,'' Hockenson said. "I have nothing but good things to say about '8'. Not just one of the best quarterbacks I've been around, but just an awesome dude, the way he handles himself in the huddle and on the field and in this locker room is just one of a kind.

"Just a great guy. You just want to play for that guy."