CHARLOTTE, N.C. — K.J. Osborn's eyes widened.
Not in the game on third-and-3 nor second-and-13 in overtime but at the podium when asked to explain how wild the endings of Vikings games have been in 2021.
"Up and down and a bunch of anxiety," Osborn summarized.
Head Coach Mike Zimmer's most telling words Sunday were, "I'm exhausted," as he left the postgame press conference room.
Zimmer had just spoken about a game-winning drive for the second consecutive week of a victory that almost wasn't.
"It's called the NFL. That's the way it is," he had said from the podium when asked about repeatedly coming down to the wire.
When Minnesota finished riding Sunday's roller coaster, the Vikings had emerged with a 34-28 overtime win at Carolina on Sunday to improve to 3-3 as it heads to its Week 7 bye.
"I mean, could we be better? Yeah. Could we be worse? Yeah. We are where we are," Zimmer said. "But I like the resiliency of this team. They fight. I thought there were so many times we should have put the game away today, and we didn't do that. So we still have to get where we get to the point where we get a team down, and we put them away. We didn't do that today. That's something we'll keep talking about, keep working on and trying to fix."
Zimmer said he gave Kirk Cousins a celebratory shove after the game. After completing 33 of 48 passes for 373 yards with three scores and a passer rating of 112.6, Cousins described himself as "spent." He also had eluded the grasp of Carolina's Brian Burns and escaped for a 16-yard gain on Minnesota's final drive in regulation.
"It's an absolute grind, and it's an absolute grind every Sunday," Cousins said. "It takes everything I've got. But I've been on the other side of those losses, too, in my career over the 10 years, so it's rewarding when you know how the other side feels, too. You really enjoy it when you do make a play and win it.
"I think it's not the way you want to win every week but proud of the way our team found a way," Cousins added. "I thought our defense did a tremendous job all game long. They faced some adversity and did a tremendous job and really gave us a chance on offense to move the football. They gave us short fields. It took all four quarters and overtime, but there were some positive things. Good to get this win and get back to .500."
View game action photos of the Vikings battling the Panthers during the Week 6 matchup in North Carolina.
He said Vikings players saw the ending of the Miami-Jacksonville game that was played in London before hitting the field.
"I know that in the NFL, so many games come down to the final possession. There's a back-and-forth all game, but you kind of know that if you're hanging around or they're hanging around, it probably will come down to the final drive or the final kick. It's just the way this league tends to work. I mean, when we were taking the field — literally taking the field — to start the game, and Miami-Jacksonville was coming down to the final kick, and we were standing watching in the tunnel here on the TV. It just reminded me again; I said, 'Another game came down to the final play, and this one probably will, too.' And it did."
The victory was the second in a row in which the Vikings had blown a double-digit lead late but prevailed on the contest's final play.
Greg Joseph had a shot at his second-consecutive game-winner after getting the Vikings a 19-17 win over the Lions in Week 5. He misfired when kicking into the wind on a 47-yarder with one second left in regulation. Joseph also missed a 50-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that would have given Minnesota a 31-17 lead with 7:00 remaining.
Cousins had led the Vikings 46 yards in 36 seconds when Joseph lined up for the potential game-winner with 0:06 on the clock. He adeptly shifted with Minnesota's goal in overtime and going back from hurry-up mode to controlling the ball.
"I think it was just an understanding that you have to kind of reset the situation, because you're in a 2-minute mode the series before," Cousins said. "And now you say, 'We're no longer in that mode, we're just moving the football. The clock, we have a lot of clock right now. We've got to reset everything.' So you have to kind of change your frame of mind, and I think that's really where our conversation was."
Even though Minnesota outgained Carolina 571 to 306 and converted seven of 16 third downs while limiting Carolina to 2-for-12 on the pivotal down, the Panthers went 2-for-2 with fourth-down conversions to tie the game at 28 with less than a minute left.
Carolina gained 41 on a fourth-and-10 from its own 4-yard line and 25 on a fourth-and-6 from the Minnesota 32.
The Vikings limited Sam Darnold to 17-of-41 passing and intercepted him on the first snap of the game.
Minnesota also recovered both fumbles by Carolina but only lost one of the four that Vikings players made.
Carolina made the most of Minnesota's lone turnover, scoring a touchdown in two plays, and also scored a touchdown on a blocked punt.
So many things led to the score being knotted, but the Vikings continued to build belief that the offense can go win the games that do come down to the final possession.
"I think it's really come a long way," Zimmer said of Cousins' play in the clutch. "I don't know – you guys (in the media) know all the stats on second-half comebacks or fourth-quarter comebacks and all that stuff, but I know that he's done an awful lot. Even since that New Orleans game down in the playoffs, he's done this continually now. I think that breeds a lot of confidence in him in some of the 2-minute drills. We talked about going some 2-minute during the game today, too. We weren't on the ball a couple times, and we didn't really go 2-minute. But he's been really successful at it."