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Kirk Cousins Hangs Tough in 1st Return to Washington, Leads Comeback Effort by Vikings

Kirk Cousins walked off the field and waved his hat in the air toward fans leaning over railings and showering him with cheers:

You like that?

It's been five years since Cousins last played in Washington – and this time, the fans wearing No. 8 are dressed in Vikings Purple.

The quarterback helped lead Minnesota to (another nail-biting) 20-17 win over the Commanders Sunday, extending the Vikings streak to six straight wins.

"To win on the road and to find a way means a lot, a special win. It was a hard-fought game," Cousins told reporters postgame. "I think the way they rushed us, the way they hit us, it's one of those games where you feel the toughness, and as you walk off the field, it feels so great to win.

"I just have so many positive memories being here and what it meant for my football [career] and my life," he added.

Cousins faced a lot of pressure all day by a strong Washington pass rush but held his own. He finished the day 22-of-40 passing for 265 yards, two touchdowns and an interception against the team that drafted him in 2012. The pick occurred at the very end of the first half, when he took a chance on a would-be 26-yard touchdown to Justin Jefferson in the end zone.

View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings 20-17 win over the Washington Commanders at FedExField on Nov. 6.

"Some of these guys are hard to block, and Kirk knows that, but we've gotta find a way," Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said. "We were able to overcome some negative outcomes – some in our control, some out of our control – but for your quarterback to stand in there and be at his best when you really need him to be, I don't think that's a coincidence when you talk about us being able to win in the fourth quarter when maybe it hasn't always been pretty."

Cousins extended his Vikings touchdown passes to 137, surpassing Daunte Culpepper’s 135 for third-most in team history.

The QB had an extra target in tight end T.J. Hockenson, whom the Vikings acquired via trade with the Lions earlier this week. Hockenson arrived in Minnesota at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and by Sunday morning was making his first start for the Vikings.

You wouldn't have guessed he'd been in the offense for under a week, though.

On just the third play of the game, Cousins connected downfield with Hockenson for a 19-yard gain on third-and-5.

The 25-year-old had three plays of double-digit yards, finishing his Vikings debut with nine catches for 70 yards, the most by a tight end this season. Four of those receptions occurred on third down.

"I can't say enough about what T.J. Hockenson did this week to learn this system. It took me about four months to learn it; he did it in, like, four days – so he's kind of making me look back," Cousins said with a laugh. "Not one time in the huddle did I feel like he was looking at me like he didn't know what to do. Just very much on top of it. Gave me a feeling of ease as a result."

Cousins and Hockenson both credited the Vikings coaching staff and other players – especially backup quarterback David Blough – for spending extra hours getting the tight end up to speed.

Hockenson said he was thankful for such a great locker room as he was "trying to figure everything out" in such a short window.

"This has just been awesome. My last four days have been incredible," he said. "They just accepted me, helped me throughout the process, learning the offense. … It's just such a great group of guys to be around. Seeing all the different faces, it's like, 'Oh yeah, you're a good dude; you're a good dude.' It's just awesome to be around.

"It was definitely a grind," Hockenson added. "But I get to take a deep breath after a win like this, and I get to come back next week and do it all over again. It'll be good."

View action photos from the Week 9 Vikings vs. Commanders game at FedExField on Nov. 6.

Though Hockenson didn't get into the end zone Sunday, a couple of his new teammates made impressive grabs in the paint.

Jefferson caught the Vikings first touchdown pass to cap their opening drive, leaping to make the grab in close coverage by cornerback Benjamin St.-Juste.

Minnesota's offense stalled then, though, ending the following seven possessions with punt, punt, punt, punt, interception, punt, punt. The Vikings went down 17-7 but got back on the board with a Greg Joseph field goal in the fourth quarter to make it a one-score game.

Joseph's attempt was made possible by a Cousins-to-Jefferson connection that gained an incredible 47 yards on third-and-7.

Cousins had the wind knocked out of him and did exit the game for one play, replaced by Nick Mullens, but then returned. He completed seven total passes to Jefferson for a team-leading 115 yards on the day.

Following the 25-yard field goal, Minnesota's defense then stepped in. Or, more specifically, Harrison Smith. "The Hitman" intercepted Taylor Heinicke with just over eight minutes remaining and returned it to the Washington 12.

Cousins capitalized on the turnover and found Dalvin Cook in the end zone two plays later. The running back made a highlight-worthy dive to make the grab, his first receiving touchdown of the season. It marks just the fourth TD catch of his career.

O'Connell said the play illustrated the faith he and the entire Vikings team has in Cook to make a play – on the ground or otherwise.

"Huge trust in Dalvin," he emphasized. "Kirk Cousins trusted him for a beautiful throw. We expected maybe a matchup versus a linebacker, but they played some dime defense with the sixth DB in there. And for him to win against the safety-type body there, maybe fight through a little contact when the ball was in the air, was pretty special. An unbelievable finish to that drive."

Minnesota forced a three-and-punt by Washington on the following possession, then executed a long drive and excellent play-clock management leading up to a second Joseph field goal to take the final lead with 12 seconds left.

"I remember thinking, 'With the way their defense is playing against us, a 10-point lead is going to be tough,' " Cousins said. "But I think combination of the explosive play on third down with Justin getting us down there, Dalvin making an unbelievable catch, Harrison's interception, they were just kind of plays that snowballed together and got us back in the game."

The Vikings now sit at 7-1 before heading to Buffalo next week.

It hasn't been easy. Nearly every game has come down to the wire, but this team has grit and resiliency.

"I'm just proud of our guys, the way they battle over and over again [through] adversity, no flinch," O'Connell said. "It might seem like a little thing, but to be down 10 in the fourth quarter, you really have two decisions to make as a football team – and we keep making the right one."