MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings had endured an incredibly frustrating day on offense, as the unit had started fast but found itself stuck in the mud for the majority of the game.
A pair of fumbles that lead directly to Panthers touchdowns hadn't helped matters, either.
But when the game was on the line and the offense was in crunch time, Kirk Cousins delivered in a big way in Minnesota's thrilling 28-27 win over Carolina.
Cousins engineered a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives, the latter ending with less than a minute to go, to help the Vikings sneak out of U.S. Bank Stadium with an improbable victory.
"I've got to give credit to Kirk. He's a true leader," said Vikings wide receiver Chad Beebe. "He just exudes confidence, and we all felt that. When you have that feeling, you feel like you've always got a chance to win, and that's what happened."
Added Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer: "He was good. He's been in those situations, we practice those things all the time. I know he was fired up after the game. It felt good for him to be able to go out and do that and win the football game."
Cousins had a strong overall performance Sunday, completing 34 of 45 passes for 307 yards with three scores and no interceptions. He had a passer rating of 115.7, his fourth straight with a passer rating over 100.
That stat line put Cousins in rare air, as it was his 16th career game with 300-plus passing yards, at least three passing scores and a passer rating of over 115. That is the most in NFL history through a player's first nine seasons, as Cousins surpassed the 15 each by Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
The quarterback was at his best on Minnesota's final two drives, as he missed just once. Cousins completed 12 of 13 passes for 136 yards with two scores on the final two drives, both of which ended in the end zone.
"May not have been the prettiest game, but ultimately, getting a win is what matters," Cousins said. "It was great to get one after having some really close losses that were a play away earlier in the year. Really encouraged by us finding a way to win despite us having so many plays we want to have back.
"Just excited to come away from the stadium today with a little better feeling in our spirits," Cousins added.
The Vikings trailed by double digits with 11 minutes and 31 seconds left. Cousins promptly led an 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive that took exactly six minutes off the clock.
He worked with Bisi Johnson (three catches for 40 yards) and Kyle Rudolph (two catches for 11 yards) to get to the 10-yard line, where Cousins finished the drive with a touchdown pass to rookie Justin Jefferson.
"Just trying to be patient with him and let him run his route, and he did a great job finishing the play," Cousins said. "Linebackers there, they're coming, and I've seen those throws caught, and he's out at the 1-yard line.
"He fought for the front pylon and got us in," Cousins added, "and that's just a great play by him."
The next time the offense received the ball, Minnesota trailed 27-21 with 1:51 left. The Vikings had the ball on their own 25-yard line and no timeouts.
No problem for Cousins, who zipped throws all over the field for the eventual game-winning drive.
He started with a 15-yarder to Jefferson, then added a 6-yarder to Beebe. Rudolph had a catch for a gain of 7, followed by a 12-yarder to Beebe that put the Vikings at the Panthers 35.
View game images as the Vikings take on the Carolina Panthers at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
And with the clock ticking, Cousins kept churning, hitting Rudolph for a 25-yard gain before safely throwing the ball away out of the back of the end zone.
His 45th and final pass of the day — a season high for Cousins — ended in the hands of Beebe for a 10-yard score that tied the game at 27. The Vikings took the lead for good on Dan Bailey's ensuing successful extra point.
"It's funny that you ask if I was seeing it in slow motion, because to be honest with you, that's kind of how it seemed," Beebe said. "I just had a … we call it a clear route.
"The defensive back, he was a little bit outside shade, so I just tried to give him a stick like I was running out, then skinny through [the open space]," Beebe added. "Kirk threw a great ball."
Cousins wasn't perfect Sunday, but he nearly was on the final two drives, generating a passer rating of 149.8.
And with scrambles of 9 and 11 yards that earned first downs earlier, he also made some plays with his feet.
The Vikings now sit at 5-6 and kept their playoff hopes alive with a gutsy comeback win over the Panthers.
Minnesota still has an uphill climb to get into the NFC postseason, but headed home Sunday night knowing it is still in the postseason race.
The Vikings can thank their starting quarterback for that.
"I thought Kirk played well all day today," Zimmer said. "He was under duress. They were giving us a lot of different blitz looks and blitz things and getting people in his face.
"He scrambled a couple times today, which helped because they gave some open areas," Zimmer added. "And then obviously on the last drive, he was terrific."