MINNEAPOLIS – If there ever was a game to test the theory of Kirk Cousins' even-keeled demeanor, Sunday was it.
And yet, the Vikings quarterback stayed true to who his teammates say he always is: not too high, and not too low.
"He's always the same. He's calm, cool, collected," tackle Brian O'Neill said. "He prepares the right way, he studies the right way, and he does everything right. He always says he tries to be a constant, stay the same level mentally, physically and emotionally – and it's a very high level."
Cousins kept his composure during Minnesota's dramatic, 27-23 comeback defeat of Denver at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Vikings entered the locker room down 20-0 at halftime. The odds of bouncing back and grabbing win number eight heading into the bye? Not great.
But Cousins didn't care too much about the odds.
Tight end Irv Smith, Jr., said that Cousins built his teammates up during halftime and urged, "Let's go. Let's get it started. That first half is gone."
Cousins led the charge, helping the Vikings drive 65 yards to open the third quarter before finding Smith on a second-and-goal from the Broncos 10 for the rookie's first career touchdown.
"I feel like that drive … kind of just started everything," Smith said. "Everybody was hot, and from then on, we just kept dialing it up."
The Vikings bounced back from an abysmal first half in all phases – "It was like Bad News Bears," said Ameer Abdullah – and were laser-focused on righting the ship.
"I just knew we had to get back in the game. You have to understand, we play this game one play at a time. It's very cliché, but it's the truth. You can't get it all back in one play, and you still have to take check-downs and what they give you," Cousins said.
Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski shifted the focus to up-tempo in effort to keep the defense off-balance, and Cousins and Co. responded.
The quarterback explained that the team "preps it all" during the week.
"You have your two-minute offense ready on Friday and Saturday, and you have your four-minute offense ready," he said. "When they say, 'Hey, we're going two-minute,' you know exactly what that means in your head and the preparation you've done, and you go into that mode."
Minnesota chipped away in the second half after stalling multiple times in the first.
But Cousins also created some explosive plays. He connected on four passes of 20 yards or more, including a 44-yard shot to Stefon Diggs and later a 54-yard touchdown to the receiver.
"I can say that Kirk threw a great ball, as usual. He is playing lights-out and doing a great job," Diggs told media members after the game. "You guys need to give him more credit. You are hard on him when he isn't playing well, and he's doing everything that he can.
"Right now, he helped us get back in it to win the game, and I want you guys to give him a pat on the back," Diggs added.
Praises from teammates rained heavy for Cousins.
Abdullah and running back Dalvin Cook both specified that Cousins is "not a rah-rah guy" but that his actions speak for themselves.
"He's going to go out there and just play. I respect a guy like that," Abdullah said. "He's a guy that's going to give it his all out there during the game. Win, lose or draw, Kirk gave it his all. He put our offense in a great position to win today, and I'm super proud of that guy."
Added Cook: "He is so locked in when he gets going, so some of the other guys try to be the voice. Once he's locked in, you saw that ball to Diggs. That was a dime. That's my quarterback."
Asked about his ability to stay unrattled, Cousins emphasized the importance of keeping his emotions in check.
"Some people call it boring. I call it being smart, being the CEO, and just staying the course," he said. "I think we all want to be that as best we can. It's an emotional game. I think some positions can be more emotional than the quarterback."
At halftime, Cousins was 11-of-12 for 58 yards and a passer rating of 86.8. He finished the game 29-of-35 for 319 yards and three touchdowns with a passer rating of 133.2.
"He played great," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "He's played great for a long time now. He made some great throws."
Minnesota improved to 8-3 and will enjoy its bye week before heading on the road to face Seattle in Week 13.
And after a less-than-probable comeback, Cousins isn't taking the win for granted.
"I'm really pleased with the second half and what we were able to do. It doesn't just happen like that," Cousins said. "You have to have character, and as one person texted me, that doesn't happen to basic people.
"You've got to have something to you to be able to bring that back," he added. "I'm proud of my teammates and our coaches for the way they found a plan to get it done."