Entering Sunday's game at New Orleans, a negative narrative surrounded Kirk Cousins' performance in big games.
NFL.com's Jeffri Chadiha delved into Cousins' outing and called him "the best QB to lead underdog Vikings over the Saints." Chadiha wrote:
These were the kinds of moments Kirk Cousins wasn't supposed to have in him. Those situations when the urgency heightened, the pressure mounted and the possibility of winning hung delicately in the balance. The Minnesota Vikings bet on this quarterback despite all the talk that he simply wasn't built to handle such a job description. On Sunday afternoon – in a place where it's always hard to win, and against a team that was a trendy Super Bowl pick – Cousins delivered when his team needed it most.
Minnesota played complementary football on Sunday, and many factors led to the win. But Chadiha emphasized Cousins' role because he "produced his most significant plays when his reputation suggested a far different result than the one the Vikings secured."
This is a man who's heard plenty about how he can't win when his team is trailing in the fourth quarter or playing on Monday nights and certainly not in the postseason. The only question Cousins has to worry about now is one that he'll enjoy pondering – how he can help the Vikings win a Divisional round game against the San Francisco 49ers this coming Saturday.
Chadiha said that Cousins' stats "don't tell the whole story" of the impact he made in New Orleans.
For one, he outplayed Saints quarterback Drew Brees, a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Cousins also kept his offense focused and efficient inside the raucous Superdome, which meant the Saints infamous home crowd never became a factor in this contest. Cousins also made the throws he had to make when the game was on the line.
Cousins was the best person to lead this team in this particular game given all the doubts that he's faced in his career. The consensus coming into this contest was that Minnesota didn't have much of a chance of advancing past the Saints.
Chadiha quoted Cousins, who said the following during his postgame presser to credit his team for the playoff victory:
"I'm just thrilled we won a playoff game and I got to do my part," Cousins said. "We won the game today because we played great defense. We got a turnover. We had good special teams. We had great play-calling. We had a great plan. We protected. We ran the football. There's a whole lot of reasons why we won the game. Does the quarterback play a role in that? Yes. But it was a team win."
SI's Bishop connects with Cousins after victory
Following the Vikings thrilling win at the Superdome, Sports Illustrated's Greg Bishop connected 1-on-1 with Cousins. He wrote:
In the [Wild Card] round of the NFL playoffs, Cousins and the Vikings made the trip to one of the loudest stadiums in pro football, where most pundits expected them to lose by double digits, where oddsmakers had made them eight-point underdogs. Minnesota had taken a 10-point lead, lost it and gone to overtime. And they had triumphed, 26-20, against a Saints team that won 13 games this season, against a hostile crowd, against Drew Brees and [Saints Head Coach] Sean Payton, and against the prevailing sentiment that this is exactly the kind of game that Cousins typically would lose. Only here, Cousins did not lose, and the Vikings did not win in spite of him. They won because of him.
Cousins finished the day 19-of-31 for 242 yards and the walk-off touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph for a passer rating of 96.4.
He told Bishop, "Ultimately, you've gotta earn things. I felt like we would be here. I felt like we had a chance."
Bishop referenced the postgame locker room interaction, when Cousins received a game ball from Head Coach Mike Zimmer and then proceeded to tell teammates, "I have three words for you: You like that?!"
The moment seemed to say what Cousins wouldn't, that he understood the magnitude of what had transpired on that field. But hours later, as he walked across the same turf, all he'd say was "It's a phrase that's followed me. Certainly after a big win, it's something that comes to mind."
Cousins exited the Superdome, wheeled between barricades and found his family waiting for him outside the team bus — his father, Don; his brother, Kyle; his wife, Julie; and three friends. Tears welled in his dad's eyes. His brother raised both arms skyward. Everybody hugged. This was the moment that showed what Sunday meant to Cousins.
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Saints in the Wild Card matchup.
Cousins paid off in crunch time
Wild Card weekend is now in the rearview mirror, and eight teams – including the Vikings – remain in the NFL postseason race.
Houston and Minnesota won their games in overtime on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, to advance to next weekend's Divisional round.
Before turning the page, though, analytics site Pro Football Focus delved into the first weekend of playoff contests. PFF analysts Sam Monson and Steve Palazzolo each shared takeaways from the games, with Palazzolo highlighting Cousins' "crunch-time" play. He wrote:
This may be the story everyone [is] discussing this week, but it's significant. The Vikings have gotten solid quarterback play during Mike Zimmer's time as head coach, from Teddy Bridgewater to Sam Bradford to a career year from Case Keenum. All three quarterbacks played the game manager role well in Minnesota, ranking in the top 10 in avoiding turnover-worthy throws in each season from 2014 to 2017. However, the Vikings signed Cousins in order to take the next step offensively, and this was a game where they needed Cousins' ability to attack down the field. He played a clean game overall, but his overtime 43-yarder to Adam Thielen put Minnesota in position to win the game, and it was the kind of play the Vikings envisioned when signing Cousins to his three-year contract in 2018.