NEW ORLEANS — When the Superdome was swaying and ear-piercing at the start of overtime, Kirk Cousins calmly stepped onto the field, blocked out the noise and led the game-winning touchdown drive.
Make no mistake about it, the Vikings quarterback LED the drive. He made three monumental throws, capping off his day with a fade to tight end Kyle Rudolph for the game-winning 4-yard touchdown that left the stadium silent.
Cousins engineered the nine-play, 75-yard drive, completing four of his five pass attempts for 63 yards and the winning score.
"You just have to put a drive together," Cousins said. "It doesn't matter how you do it."
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer summed up Cousins' performance (19 of 31 passing for 242 yards with a touchdown, no turnovers and a passer rating of 96.4) with the following:
"You know, they said he can't win a playoff game, can't do this," Zimmer said. "He's only been in two, so he's 50 percent. That's better than a lot of people.
"I thought he did really well today, took care of the ball, made good decisions. We had some heat on us, so he had to make some great decisions," Zimmer added. "He's got to go out and prove it again next week, just like we all do."
Here's a look at Cousins' three biggest throws on the drive, and how they helped the Vikings secure a 26-20 overtime win over the Saints.
Third-and-1 at the Vikings 34-yard line: Cousins hits Stefon Diggs for a 10-yard gain.
Diggs had just one catch for 9 yards entering overtime, as he was shadowed by Saints cornerback Janoris Jenkins for the majority of the game.
But when the Vikings needed to move the chains, the Saints sent pressure. No. 14 in all-purple beat No. 20 in all-white cleanly for a slant and a first down.
"It was a one-play-at-a-time kind of game. To win, it's very emotional," Diggs said. "We wanted to win and had the mindset to win.
"We prepared all week like we were going to win," Diggs added. "We came out and executed."
Cousins said even though Diggs had just one catch before that connection, he didn't hesitate to look for one of his top targets.
"Diggs' third-down catch … was a really big-time play," Cousins said. "The amount of separation he gets in man coverage there is impressive."
With the ball at the Vikings 44, Cousins was incomplete before Dalvin Cook surged forward for 11 tough yards.
That brought up…
First-and-10 at the Saints 45-yard line: Cousins goes deep to Adam Thielen for 43 yards.
Thielen had encountered a couple of frustrating moments — he fumbled on his first catch of the day and was then called for a questionable holding penalty that stalled another Vikings drive — but had rebounded.
Thielen entered overtime with six catches for 86 yards and was about to put an exclamation point on his performance.
Cousins took the snap and faked a handoff to Alexander Mattsion before planting his feet near midfield and uncorking a deep pass to the two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver. Thielen had worked up the field on Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson, gaining a yard or two of separation around the 20-yard line.
Cousins' pass floated into Thielen's hands just inside the 5-yard line before Robinson touched him down at the 2.
"Kirk obviously gave me a shot, and it couldn't have been a more-perfect ball. It's something we haven't thrown for a long time," Thielen said. "We had been practicing it and things like that, but I never thought it would come in that situation.
"Obviously, kudos to him. That thing dropped right in the bucket," Thielen added. "I'm thankful that he's our guy back there because he played a hell of a football game and really was a big reason we won."
Others, including Diggs, thought the game was going to end on that play.
"It's more emotional than anything," Diggs said. "When I saw it happen, I saw the ball in the air and knew he was going to catch it. It was a great play."
Thielen missed roughly half the season with a hamstring injury, but still finished tied for the team-lead with six touchdown catches.
Sunday's game was perhaps a microcosm of his season — some frustrations amidst a tough environment, but the Minnesota native came through when it mattered most.
"He's just such a good player, it's just a matter of time," Cousins said. "When you're that good, you're eventually going to show up and produce."
The Vikings longest play of the game came at the perfect time.
"We wanted to go win," Zimmer said. "I told a bunch of defensive guys, 'We're not leaving anything in the bag. We're going to go for it.'
"We didn't come here to try to tie or lose or whatever," Zimmer said. "We were going to take our shots."
Third-and-goal at the Saints 4-yard line: Cousins lofts game-winning touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph.
Truth be told, the Vikings actually had a different play call in the huddle than the one that ultimately worked.
But when the Saints showed an all-out blitz (Cover 0) that the New Orleans defense brought, Cousins changed the play to include a fade pass to one of his biggest targets.
"We actually had a different play called, but if they zeroed us, we were going to throw the fade," Zimmer said.
The Saints brought the pressure while Cousins looked left and fired a pass that now lives in Vikings lore.
Cousins explained when he knew he was going to target No. 82.
"After the ball was snapped and they all blitzed," Cousins said. "They brought Cover 0 and the ball's got to get out. You can't hit it, if it doesn't go out."
"I didn't feel under duress. I knew it was Cover 0, so the ball gets out so quick so they don't get home," Cousins added. "It was a great play by Rudy. He went up and grabbed it and kept his feet it, which is a big challenge on that play."
Rudolph used his 6-foot-6, 265-pound frame to box out safety P.J. Williams (6-foot, 196), snag the pass and get two feet in bounds.
"I've played a lot of basketball in my life," Rudolph said. "They brought a lot of pressure, and Kirk gave me a chance to go up and get the rebound, go up and make a play to help our team win.
"Once they brought pressure, I knew the ball was coming," Rudolph added. "We were 1-on-1 out there, and Kirk made an unbelievable throw, just gave me a chance."
Zimmer said he was proud of Rudolph in the moment, as the team captain and nine-year veteran hauled in the biggest catch of his life.
"He's awfully good in the red zone and made a great catch," Zimmer said. "He's always been a great team player, and for him to be able to get the winning catch, I thought it was big."
In the locker room, Zimmer presented a game ball to Cousins, who gave a quick yet passionate speech to his teammates.
Of course, he punctuated it with his trademark line, "You like that?!"
Yes, the Vikings did like that, as their quarterback came up clutch in the biggest moment of his career to deliver an overtime win.
"He was out there balling," Diggs said. "I thought he played a great game and he was the quarterback we needed."
Added Cousins: "I'm proud of the way we kept playing and found a way at the end. In this league, every game seems to come down to the last play. I'm just glad we're moving on."