Cousins didn’t do much for most of the game, and the game plan seemed to want to hide him a bit. But in overtime, Cousins made a tremendous 43-yard pass to Adam Thielen to get the Vikings down to the goal line, and then hit Kyle Rudolph on a third-down touchdown to lead the Minnesota to a huge 26-20 wild-card playoff upset over the Saints. The Vikings move on to face the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday in the divisional round.
Minnesota came to the Superdome and had the game plan to beat the Saints. The Vikings controlled the game on the ground, kept the Saints’ offense off the field, and didn’t let playmakers Michael Thomas or Alvin Kamara beat them. The Vikings coughed up a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter, allowing New Orleans to send the game to overtime.
They were on the ropes and Cousins — yes, the oft-criticized Cousins — saved the Vikings.
“Kirk can’t win big games apparently,” Rudolph told Fox after the game. “I think we proved that wrong today.”
Vikings shut down the Saints
The Saints were bad for most of the game on offense. They had just 25 yards in the first quarter. The only sign of life in the first three quarters was a pass from Taysom Hill, the team’s Swiss Army knife, throwing deep to kick returner Deonte Harris. Not exactly how New Orleans drew it up during the week.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who has had his job security questioned this past week, had a great game. Minnesota got a good pass rush, often by moving its best rushers around. The Vikings diagnosed some of the attempts by the Saints to get Kamara in space. Thomas, at the end of a season in which he broke the record for receptions, wasn’t much of a factor.
The Vikings were confident in their game plan, which was practically to run the ball, limit Cousins and play defense. You have to execute that perfectly against a Saints offense that was on fire for the final stretch of the season, and the Vikings did just that. And still, the Saints found a way to send it to overtime.
Vikings come up big in OT
Minnesota controlled most of the game, but the Saints were able to tie it in the fourth quarter.
Brees found Hill for a touchdown early in the period to cut the Vikings’ lead to 20-17. Hill gave the Saints a much-needed spark, whether it was as a blocker, pass-catcher, runner out of the quarterback spot, or throwing the ball.
Brees fumbled with the Saints in field goal range in the final minutes, but the Saints defense got him the ball back. In the final two minutes, Jared Cook bulled his way ahead for a first down into field-goal range. Wil Lutz, who missed a 43-yard attempt at the end of the first half, came on with seven seconds left and hit a 49-yard field goal to tie it. There was overtime for the second time in the NFL’s first three postseason games.
Cousins, who has been ripped incessantly since signing his $84 million contract with the Vikings for not playing well against the best competition, got the first shot in overtime. When Saints cormerback Marshon Lattimore was knocked out of the game briefly, Cousins went right to Thielen and completed the pass to the 2-yard line.
Two runs went nowhere, but a nice throw to Rudolph in the corner ended the game. Cousins recognized the blitz, and threw an accurate pass that only Rudolph had a shot to catch. He pulled it down for a 4-yard score and the Vikings had a huge win.
Cousins and the Vikings move on in the playoffs, with a little less noise about their ability in big games.
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