On an epic afternoon, Kirk Cousins won his first NFC North title, threw for a career high in passing yards, made the greatest comeback in NFL history, and set a record for the flashiest jacket ever worn by a man who thinks khaki a bit too risky for public display.
“My wife dresses me,” he said. “She explained it last night and I looked at her and said, ‘I don’t know.'” She nodded and said, “You have to do it.” So here we are.”
On Saturday, Cousins threw touchdowns to four receivers as the Vikings overcame a 33-point deficit to beat the Indianapolis Colts 39-36 in overtime at U.S. Bank Stadium. He finished with 460 passing yards, including 417 after halftime—a total that would rank as the seventh-most passing yards he had accumulated in a game.
This season, the former Quirk Cousins has earned the nickname “Clutch,” trading his accountant’s green eyeshadow for a quick-pull holster. The Vikings are 10-0 in one-score games this season, and two of those wins—five weeks ago in Buffalo and against the Colts on Sunday—are among the most dramatic in franchise history.
“I’m a fan of football, and when someone left the field, someone said it was the greatest comeback,” Cousins said. “I thought of Frank Reich and the Bills and I thought, ‘It couldn’t have been bigger.’ “
In the 1992 season playoffs, Reich led the Bills to a victory after trailing Warren Moon and the Oilers by 32 points. Last month, Reich was fired as Colts coach and replaced by Jeff Saturday, who fell victim to Saturday’s comeback that trumped Reich’s.
Cousins was 4 when that game was played. He saw it.
“I watch the NFL Network,” Cousins said. “Recently I watched the 2013 NFC Championship Game between the Seahawks and Niners. I watch that as a student of the game. That’s a game and stage that I want to play on. I want to see that. So when those games come around, I always try to get something out of it and make myself a better player.”
This season, he’s turned himself into a different quarterback. He takes more chances down the field, is more evasive in the pocket, handles pressure (whether from pass rushers or expectations) with more grace, and by definition makes more winning plays.
The division victory leaves the Vikings at 11-3. Cousins career record is 70-62-2 and he is 44-32-1 in Minnesota. He had never had 11 wins in a season and he was able to set personal bests for touchdowns and yards-passing.
He also looks different on the sidelines. The quarterback who once feuded with Adam Thielen, lost faith in Stefon Diggs, and shocked Coach Mike Zimmer last year with a (playful?) shove, has shown leadership under the pressure that was on display again Saturday.
Trailing the Vikings by 15 midway through the fourth quarter, Cousins fired a pass deep down the left sideline. Receiver Jalen Reagor stopped running and the pass was intercepted.
Cousins threw up his hands and stormed to the sideline. By the time he got to Reagor, he seemed to be speaking in a soft, reassuring tone as he patted the receiver on the back.
In the second half, Cousins threw touchdown passes to four different receivers—and the tying two-point conversion to a fifth—on five different types of routes.
He hit KJ Osborn on a quick putout in the front left corner of the end zone. He hit Justin Jefferson on a double move near the goal line against star cornerback Stephon Gilmore. He hit Adam Thielen on a third or fourth reading of a mock action.
He threw the screen pass that Dalvin Cook turned into a 64-yard touchdown. And he threw a bullet to TJ Hockenson for the two-point conversion, setting up his orchestration of the drive for a game-winning field goal in overtime.
Cousins calls divisional clinchers “Hat and T-shirt games.” On Saturday, he added a colorful jacket and an implied crown.