K.J. Osborn took his game ball to the podium with him.
As he should.
Osborn held the football while talking to reporters following his game-winning touchdown to cap a roller-coaster of an afternoon and defeat the Panthers 34-28 in overtime.
The 27-yard catch that reached just across the corner of the Carolina Blue end zone was reviewed by officials, but Osborn said he knew the whole time he'd scored.
"I was confident," he said, grinning. "That's why I threw my helmet."
Reflecting on the game's final play, Osborn said he recognized he'd probably be 1-on-1 with Panthers safety Sean Chandler and noted that he "tried not to give it away."
"I kind of peeked in peripheral and saw the coverage, and I knew that the corner of the end zone could be open. So I sprinted, didn't get touched," he said. "I tried to set [Chandler] a little bit and planted and sprinted, and I knew Kirk [Cousins] would probably lead me a little bit because there was room over there.
"I turned and it was up, and it was my turn to make a play, so that's what I did. I just made a play," Osborn added with a smile.
Cousins didn't actually expect to be targeting Osborn, but he took the opportunity when he saw it.
"It really comes down to how they choose to play it. Pre-snap I didn't feel good about it, but there's always the post-snap read. Post-snap, the corner squatted a little bit on the curl route by JJ (Justin Jefferson)," Cousins said. "I figured I would put it over his head and let K.J. go get it. What I loved was K.J.'s ability to go get it and his ability to finish and not let it be down at the 1."
The touchdown certainly showcased Osborn's talent and will be the most memorable catch of the game – especially considering the walk-off score helped the Vikings improve to 3-3 before their bye week.
But Osborn made arguably an even more impressive grab three plays earlier.
On third-and-3 from their own 43, the Vikings needed to get a first down in order to keep the opening overtime drive alive.
Cousins flushed to his right and lofted a pass to Osborn, who slid and took a hit from Keith Taylor while making the 13-yard catch to move into Carolina territory.
"It was a keeper, or a rollout to the right, and I was the backside, like the last read, so usually it comes out pretty quick. But if not, that's probably some confusion going on over there or something," Osborn explained, "so I had man-to-man [coverage], and I went up into stair-step and sprinted across the field. The line protected well, gave Kirk some time, and he found me there in the back. So that was a good play."
Osborn finished the afternoon with six catches for 78 yards and the score.
He was one of seven Vikings to catch a ball from Cousins – including Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, both of whom had been on the Injury Report leading up to Sunday's game. Neither seemed too hampered, though, as they combined for 19 catches and 206 yards. Thielen led the team with 126 yards and scored his fifth touchdown of the season.
Tight end Tyler Conklin made a career-long, 40-yard catch in the fourth quarter and totaled three receptions for 71 yards on the day.
Running back Dalvin Cook also looked mostly recovered from an ankle injury, as he racked up 29 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown. His score on a 16-yard run occurred in the third quarter, snapping a stretch of 30 offensive second-half drives without a touchdown.
"You know, [Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has] been hard on us, about us coming out flat the last couple games, and I kinda felt it head our direction, and you got Adam, Kirk, Justin, the O-line, you're seeing guys just backed up, going, 'Nah, we're not going that direction,' " Cook said. "Change the attitude, get the energy going. When we're back on the sidelines, get the whole sidelines going, too. Just the energy and the positive vibes around us, I think that's what lured us back in that direction. Like, 'Go score some points.' "
Cook said after the game he isn't "fully" healthy yet but felt good enough to go in Minnesota's final game before an off week.
"Just credit to God … for giving me the ability to go out there and compete and do all the things that I do on the field," Cook said. "Like I said, I'm not surprised by a lot of stuff because I work hard, and these guys around me hold me to a high standard, and I do the same thing for them. So that just is the standard I live by in the locker room."
Sunday marked the third time Minnesota has notched a 100-yard rusher and receiver in a game, after Alexander Mattison and Jefferson each did so against Seattle and Detroit. The Vikings totaled 571 yards of total offense against the Panthers, which is the third-most in franchise history (622 vs. Baltimore in 1969 and 605 at New Orleans in 2004).
There were plenty of things the Vikings offense will self-critique, though, too – including fumbles by Cook, Cousins and Jefferson (only the latter was lost) and repeated penalties that kept Carolina in the game.
"[The momentum] was up and down. We have it, we lose it, we have it, we lose it," Cousins said. "You just have to have that next-play mentality and 'What's important now?' I can't say enough about [Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak] giving us a plan in the 2-minute drill at the end of regulation and then the drive in overtime.
"Our players executed, the offensive line was protecting. To drop back almost 50 times today and not have a sack says a lot about our offensive line play and our pass protection against what I think is a really good front," Cousins added. "We made the plays we needed this week."
The Vikings will take a much-needed break for the bye before returning to U.S. Bank Stadium for a Sunday Night Football contest against the Cowboys Oct. 31.
As Minnesota looks for ways to continue improving offensively, Zimmer and knows Osborn will continue to play a regular role.
"When the game's been on the line, he's produced," Zimmer said. "Give him a lot of credit. He's worked really, really hard. He's a good kid. He practices really hard. He does things that good pros do. Most of it's been about him, and I really believe that Kirk has a lot of confidence in him."
Cousins concurred, saying Osborn's consistently been "a tremendous player" for Minnesota after not playing a single offensive snap last season as a rookie.
The offseason production was there, but many wondered if it would carry over to game day. Well, that question has long-since been answered.
"He's done everything right. I'm just happy it's now showing up in games and that it's showing up a lot in crunch time, too," Cousins said. "Can't say enough good things about the contributions he has made to our offense. On the final play, that's a great design by Klint to give us that chance, to give us that opportunity to high-low the corner and have a chance to end it there.
"[And] I think part of the reason I throw that deep cross to K.J. on the third down when I'm sprinting right is because I feel he has shown up so many times," Cousins added. "Let's give him that chance."