ST. PAUL — Kirk Cousins was shockingly accountable after the Vikings’ embarrassing 40-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, Oct. 18. Usually defiant after a dreadful performance, the 32-year-old quarterback knew he couldn’t explain away his most recent disappointing outing at U.S. Bank Stadium.

While he used garbage time in the fourth quarter to make his final stat line look pretty much like it always does — 24 for 36 for 343 yards and 3 touchdowns in a blowout loss is about as Kirk Cousins as it gets — he also dug the Vikings into an insurmountable hole by throwing three interceptions before halftime.

“It was not good enough,” Cousins said. “I’ll take the responsibility for it.”

That sentence by itself might as well have been the upset of the century, and Cousins wasn’t done. He continued the harsh assessment of himself, going as far as saying his putrid play this season is worthy of him being benched at some point. FYI: He leads the NFL with 10 interceptions.

“You just have to play well in this business,” Cousins said. “The reality is, if the pace I’m on in terms of the interceptions, if that were to continue, I won’t finish the season.”

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It was arguably the most self-aware thing Cousins has said since signing his fully guaranteed $84 million contract in 2018.

It also was a perfect example of Cousins being in a position of power. He can talk about it all he wants because deep down he knows there’s no chance he actually gets benched. Not this season, at least.

If the Vikings were ever going to bench Cousins, it would have happened with him struggling in the first half against the 0-5 Falcons. He looked like a student driver trying to parallel park out there.

That said, after the game, when asked if he ever considered benching Cousins, coach Mike Zimmer responded with a simple “No.” That’s because the Vikings can’t bench Cousins. Not when backup Sean Mannion is only other quarterback on the roster.

It doesn’t matter that Cousins threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage against the Falcons — and somehow got worse from there. For everything he isn’t when he steps on the field, he is still light years ahead of Mannion when it comes to playing the position. Those who think otherwise are kidding themselves.

The worst part for the Vikings is there isn’t exactly a light at the end of the tunnel. They can’t bench Cousins. They can’t cut him, either.

Not after gifting him a $66 million extension this offseason in a move designed to free up salary cap space so they could keep their roster intact.

What general manager Rick Spielman failed to recognize, or refused to recognize, is that Cousins isn’t capable of getting the Vikings over the hump. He never has been. He has prove that time and time again since signing on the dotted line.

It would cost the Vikings a whopping $41 million against the salary cap next season to cut Cousins after this season. That means even if the Vikings take a quarterback in the upcoming draft, something fans are clamoring for at this point, it’s almost a guarantee that Cousins will be on the roster, too. The Vikings can’t afford to dump him.

All the Vikings can do at this point is continue to trot Cousins out there and hope he improves.

“I need to correct it,” Cousins said. “I need to finish the season with a different story, regarding the interceptions, so that’s something I need to improve with the remaining games we have.”

He finally is saying all the right things. That said, as Zimmer showed over the weekend by not benching Cousins, actions speak louder than words.