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Vikings' QB Cousins sharp in debut at Denver, even if it was just one series

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) celebrates his touchdown pass to wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) in the first quarter against the Denver Broncos at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on Saturday, Aug. 12. Ron Chenoy / USA TODAY Sports1 / 2
Minnesota Vikings running back Latavius Murray (25) carries the ball in the first quarter against the Denver Broncos at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on Saturdy, Aug. 11. Ron Chenoy / USA TODAY Sports2 / 2

DENVER—Kirk Cousins wasn't perfect, but he was close.

The NFL considers a perfect passer rating to be 158.3. Cousins' mark was 150.0 in his only series as the Vikings defeated Denver 42-28 in the preseason opener Saturday night, Aug. 11, at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.

In his much-anticipated debut at quarterback, Cousins completed all four of his attempts for 42 yards and a touchdown. He threw a nifty 28-yard pass to Stefon Diggs down the right sideline and soon followed it with a 1-yard TD pass to Diggs for a 7-0 lead.

"I thought Kirk was very sharp," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said at halftime on the team's television broadcast.

Cousins signed a three-year, $84 million deal in March as the Vikings elected not to bring back free-agent quarterback Case Keenum, who had led them to the NFC championship game.

Keenum signed a two-year, $38 million deal with Denver and was the opposing quarterback Saturday. So how did he do?

Not so well.

Keenum completed just 1 of 4 passes for 5 yards while playing two series.

"I'll be honest," Keenum said on the Broncos' television broadcast. "I wanted one more series with a (few) more plays and score a touchdown."

Keenum called it a "great test" going against a team that was ranked No. 1 in the NFL last season in total and scoring defense. And that was despite the Vikings sitting out nose tackle Linval Joseph and linebacker Anthony Barr with undisclosed injuries.

The Vikings also didn't use running back Dalvin Cook, who is coming back after suffering a torn left ACL last October. But it hardly mattered.

Latavius Murray took over for Cook and carried four times for 43 yards, including a pair of 21-yard runs. And the Vikings late in the second quarter rolled out undrafted rookie Roc Thomas.

Playing only in the first half, Thomas caught three passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns and rushed seven times for 28 yards. His scores came on catches of 13 yards from Trevor Siemian in first quarter and 78 yards from Siemian in the second quarter. On the second one, Thomas caught a short ball and outraced the Denver secondary into the end zone.

In relief of Cousins and against the team he played for the last three seasons, Siemian completed 11 of 17 passes for 165 yards and the two TDs to Thomas. Siemian then gave way to Kyle Sloter, who played all four preseason games for Denver last season before being waived and joining the Vikings.

Sloter threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Chad Beebe with 6:01 left in the fourth quarter and then hit Jeff Badet on a two-point conversion pass to put the Vikings up for good at 35-28. He then ran 14 yards for a touchdown with 3:06 left for a 42-28 lead.

Thomas is battling Mack Brown and Mike Boone to be Minnesota's third-string running back behind Cook and Murray.

Perhaps the most intriguing battle of the preseason is at kicker between incumbent Kai Forbath and rookie Daniel Carlson. The Vikings had Forbath handle kickoffs and Carlson all extra points and field goals.

Carlson, a native of Colorado Springs, Colo., had a banner night. He made all four of his extra points and both of his field-goal attempts, one from 39 yards in the second quarter and one from 57 in the third quarter.

Carlson put himself in the record books for making the second-longest preseason field goal in Minnesota history. The only one longer was 58 yards last year by Marshall Koehn, but Forbath eventually was able to beat him out for the job.

While Carlson came up big, Minnesota's special-teams play was erratic. The Vikings gave up a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter by Isaiah McKenzie. On the ensuing kickoff from the 50 following a penalty, Cayleb Jones made a fair catch at the Minnesota 9 that Zimmer said at halftime "wasn't very smart."

Zimmer, though, did like how the offensive line looked. The Vikings had three injured starters out in Pat Elflein, Mike Remmers and Nick Easton (out for the season), but Zimmer said at halftime that the linemen "came off the ball."

The line did a solid job in protecting Cousins during his one series. Cousins had admitted before the game it would be a challenge playing behind a makeshift line.