Putting an end to the big-game narrative that has hung over him throughout his NFL career, quarterback Kirk Cousins led the Minnesota Vikings to their first road playoff victory in 15 years with a 26-20 overtime win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
Continuing the trend of close games with crazy finishes during wild-card weekend, the Vikings punched their ticket to the divisional round in overtime when Cousins orchestrated a nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph.
“We want to score. They have a Hall of Fame guy on the other sideline and he didn’t get to touch the ball in overtime so we knew that,” Rudolph said. “We started the preseason here with a touchdown drive to open the game. And we needed another one to win in the playoffs.”
Cousins notched his first career win in the postseason after completing 4 of 5 pass attempts for 63 yards and a touchdown on the Vikings’ sole overtime drive. Cousins’ pass to Rudolph came against a zero blitz on third down. Prior to that throw, the quarterback had only one passing touchdown under pressure all season on 99 attempts.
“I didn’t feel under duress,” Cousins said. “I know it was Cover 0 but the ball gets out so quick I don’t really feel like they got home. It was a great play by Rudy, one-on-one, and he went up and grabbed it and kept his feet in, which is a challenge. He made a great play.”
The game-winning touchdown was sparked by a critical third-and-1 conversion by Stefon Diggs for a 10-yard gain followed by an 11-yard run by Dalvin Cook, who bulldozed through Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who then limped off the field. On the next play, Cousins targeted Patrick Robinson, Lattimore’s replacement, who was in coverage on Adam Thielen. The Vikings receiver hauled a 43-yard over-the-shoulder catch down to the 2-yard line to set up Rudolph’s TD.
“[Cousins] has a lot of trust in his ability and when he sees the right coverage and they give you the opportunity to take a shot, which they really didn’t the whole game because of the type of coverages they were playing, he’s a guy that we know — because of all the reps we’ve had in the last two years — that when he does have an opportunity to throw it deep, he’s going to give you a chance,” Thielen said. “When I lined up I knew I was getting the ball and I’m thankful he threw it to me.”
Cousins’ pass to Thielen traveled 40 air yards, their most on a completion together since the QB arrived in Minnesota, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Two weeks after he was held without a reception on four targets in a loss to Green Bay, Thielen had seven catches for 129 yards in New Orleans.
“We talked about — we didn’t wanna leave anything in the bag,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “We had a chance to go down and score and win, and that’s what we were trying to do. It’s a play that we’ve used before; it’s a great throw by Kirk, great catch by Adam. You gotta take your shots when you’re trying to win a playoff game.”
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SOURCE: ESPN, Courtney Cronin