A 30-year-old Kyle Rudolph racked up 14 points for the Vikings en route to an exhilarating 28-24 defeat of the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football.
A day after celebrating the milestone birthday, Rudolph did a little bit of everything in the prime-time game, including a score that wowed the national audience and put Minnesota on the board.
After the Vikings defense forced the Cowboys to attempt a field goal that went wide left, Minnesota moved the ball effectively to set up second-and-goal at the Dallas 1, and Kirk Cousins let the ball fly.
What initially appeared to be a throw-away by the QB instead was a throw of trust to Rudolph, who went up and made an impressive one-handed grab – and then also managed to get both feet down just inside the back of the end zone.
"I still haven't asked Kirk if he was throwing that one away or not, but I saw the ball in the air," Rudolph joked postgame. "It was big for us to get off to a fast start. If we wanted to get out of here with a win tonight, we had to start fast, and we did that."
Cousins noted that Rudolph wasn't actually the first or even the second option on that call but that he came through in the clutch.
"I just thought, [Cowboys linebacker] Sean Lee was in position, but if I give Rudy a chance, usually he makes you right," Cousins said. "He made an unbelievable play and showed why he's such a special player."
Rudolph was just getting started.
On their next possession, the Vikings again found themselves on the Cowboys 1-yard line, this time with third-and-goal. After relying on a run by Dalvin Cook on the previous play, Cousins opted for a pass and found Rudolph in the blue paint for another touchdown.
"He got behind the defense and [got] a great opportunity, and he made it," Cousins said.
The pair of touchdowns gave Minnesota a 14-point lead, but Dallas fired back and tied it up. The NFC opponents battled throughout the night, and at one point the Cowboys took a 21-20 lead.
Then late in the third quarter, Cook scored on a two-yard run, and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer opted to attempt a two-point conversion rather than the PAT.
The pass went to – you guessed it – Rudolph to successfully give the Vikings a 7-point advantage and a little more breathing room.
That catch may not look as flashy as a touchdown on paper but, in a way, held just as much weight in the game's ultimate outcome.
"It came down to the end there. Without that 2-point conversion, a field goal [would have tied it], so instead they needed a touchdown," Rudolph said. "Two-point conversions, they may not show up on the stat sheet, but those two points are huge."
Cousins was asked about Rudolph's impact on the evening, and he called the tight end an "elite red-zone target" who can make things happen at crucial moments.
"[On the] 2-point conversion, he's pretty much covered, but he just goes up and snatches it away. It's pretty special when you can do that," Cousins said. "We've gotta find ways to get him more opportunities because he showed tonight how special he is. Without Adam [Thielen], we have to kind of re-invent ourselves and find some ways to get other people involved, too."
Zimmer said that Rudolph created a good matchup for Dallas' defense.
"He's going to get more balls with a scheme like this that they played tonight," Zimmer explained. "They've got a lot of zones, and he's a really good zone receiver, and he'll get more opportunities like that. That was good for him.
"Kyle's a true Viking," Zimmer said. "He's a guy that works his rear end off every day."
Rudolph certainly puts the work in, and he pointed out that it's been a joint effort between him and Cousins to continually grow chemistry between the two of them.
Rudolph tipped his hat to the QB for believing in him on multiple occasions Sunday.
"Kirk showed a lot of trust in me," Rudolph said. "Both of those throws were in traffic, really all three of them were in traffic, but that's what we've been working on, that trust – throwing balls up in traffic, and I just go get them."
A marquee road win started Year 30 off well for Rudolph, but he hopes there are even bigger things in store down the road.
"It is [a good position, but] we've got a big one this week at home before the bye, and we need to get to 8-3," Rudolph said, already turning the page to hosting the Broncos. "That's all that matters at this point – getting to 8-3 before the bye, and then taking care of business in December."
View postgame celebration images from Sunday as the Vikings beat the Cowboys by a 28-24 score.