MINNEAPOLIS — Kirk Cousins led the Vikings on five consecutive scoring drives Monday in a 22-17 win over the 49ers.
The first was the most impressive from start to finish; the second and fourth resulted in field goals after disappointing results in the lower red zone. The fifth gained just enough for a field goal, and the keystone of the scoring arc (a few blocks from the famed Stone Arch Bridge) ended with an improbable 60-yard touchdown seconds before the first half expired.
But maybe Cousins' most rewarding drive the entire night was heading back from U.S. Bank Stadium with his oldest son Cooper riding along after the 6-year-old attended his first night game — well after his normal bedtime.
Although he completed 35 of 45 passes for 378 yards (his 10th highest total in a regular-season game) with two touchdowns against one interception and totaled a passer rating of 107.2, Cousins will counterbalance that with some missed opportunities as he and the team evaluate a victory earned as a home underdog.
"It was a positive night, but the way I'm wired, I'm thinking about the two red zone possessions we didn't score touchdowns," Cousins said. "You also know the difference between walking away with a win tonight and sitting here and you lost, it isn't much, so you try not to get too low in the losses and you realize how close you were to winning, and you try not to get too up in the wins.
"I think it's more of just, 'Try to get that win and then regardless, put it away and go to the next one and fix whatever isn't good enough, win or lose. That's what we'll do, but there's no doubt when I'm driving home with Cooper, I'll be in a much better mood than we were against the Chiefs two weeks ago."
The Vikings secured their first home win of 2023 after falling in their first three games by three, four and seven points.
Cousins, the offensive line with Dalton Risner filling in for an injured Ezra Cleveland at left guard, and the offensive game plan crafted by Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips and others helped keep San Francisco from recording a sack for the first time since Week 17 of the 2022 season.
"Kirk Cousins was fantastic tonight in critical moments time after time, progressing, seeing the whole field, and absolutely dialed in in every phase of our game plan," O'Connell said.
O'Connell pointed toward a speech Cousins had delivered to the offensive group Sunday that carried over to the team.
"He talked a lot to the offense yesterday about when the schedule comes out and you know you're going to be playing at home on Monday Night Football against this team, I have so much respect for [49ers Head Coach] Kyle [Shanahan] and the whole offensive and defensive staff, and they have really good players. They built that team the right way.
"Kirk talked to our offense about how these are the types of games you can really measure what you're capable of, and really meeting the moment and capturing the moment with your execution and being willing to turn it lose regardless of what happened on the previous play," O'Connell continued. "Just turn it loose, be confident in the guys next to you, and I think his message was really received clearly by our offense.
"That carried over to the whole team. That's leadership," O'Connell added. "We could go on for the next 35, 40 minutes about the way he played individual plays where he was overcoming some circumstances, moving within the pocket, trusting the protection, and seeing the whole field. Against that team, that's big-time quarterback play in my mind."
The trust in the protection was high, and so was the belief the entire roster could make plays when opportunities presented as Minnesota played its second game without All-Pro receiver Justin Jefferson.
Jordan Addison caught seven passes for 123 yards, highlighted by the scores of 20 and 60 yards, and T.J. Hockenson added 11 catches for 86 yards on 12 targets and some key blocks on flash plays.
Both missed some time with injuries, and teammates stepped up, with seven other players combining for 17 receptions, led by Brandon Powell's 64 on four catches and including the first career reception for Trishton Jackson, which moved Minnesota in place for a 54-yard field goal by Greg Joseph late in the third.
"We trusted the game plan," left tackle Christian Darrisaw said. "It starts with our preparation during the week. We had great preparation, and we showed it out there.
"We know we've got a great quarterback back there, and we know we've just got to give him a little bit of time to make that play," Darrisaw added. "And when pressure does get on him, he doesn't back off, he doesn't fold or flinch. He's going to make a play."
Trust is going higher, along with a pregame tradition of sorts that began in Week 6 at Soldier Field.
"Big to get a win, and I've got to say it, Creed," Cousins said. "I'm getting my ankles taped pre-game because I try to get them taped as late as possible. I'm sitting there on the table and it comes on, and Garrett Bradbury is doing some body work next to me, he goes, 'Forget this, I've got to go enjoy this with the boys.' He gets up and goes in the locker room, and I get my ankles taped and go in there.
"We go to pray in the corner of the locker room with any guys who want to pray, and the prayer, and we're here, so we had to turn the Creed off, and Harrison Smith made a great point," Cousins added. "He said, 'Guys, this is the prayer.' I thought, 'That's pretty good.' So yeah, we'll keep playing it. They keep playing 'Higher,' and I'm going 'Creed has a lot of hits. They've got a good catalog.' You don't have to only play 'Higher,' but they're taking us higher, so we'll take it."