The Minnesota Vikings exorcised some demons in their 26-20 overtime win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday in the Wild Card.
It was their first road playoff win in 15 years and the biggest win of Kirk Cousins' career, one he needed desperately to prove he could succeed in big moments.
Even their play-calls on Sunday seemed to be aimed at getting over proverbial humps. Their biggest play of the game was the same play that nearly derailed their season back in Week 4.
In overtime on Sunday, on first-and-10 from the Saints' 45-yard line, Cousins uncorked a deep ball that dropped right into the hands of Adam Thielen, who laid out for the 43-yard catch, just beating Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson and safety Marcus Williams.
The completion set up 1st-and-goal, and the Vikings scored on a game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph three plays later.
The Vikings tried that same play 14 weeks ago, on the road vs. the Chicago Bears. Cousins badly missed an open Thielen, the Vikings lost, and it seemed as if the team might fall apart. After the game, Thielen called out a struggling Cousins.
“At some point, you're not going to be able to run the ball for 180 yards, even with the best running back in the NFL,” Thielen said at the time. “That's when you have to be able to throw the ball … You have to be able to hit the deep balls.” Cousins had downplayed the miss after that game.
At the time, the Vikings were 2-2 and one of the worst passing teams in the league, even with Cousins, Thielen, and Pro Bowl receiver Stefon Diggs.
The schedule may have kept the team from splintering. The next week, they played the New York Giants' weak pass defense, and Cousins threw for 306 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 28-10 win. Thielen had 7 catches for 130 yards and both touchdown grabs. That win began a four-game win streak and a stretch that saw the Vikings win six of seven games and eight of 10.
Thielen confirmed to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero on Sunday that it was the same play as Week 4. However, both Thielen and Cousins downplayed the play afterward, refusing to reveal the play call name.
“Just go make a play,” Thielen said (via ESPN's Dan Graziano). “When you get the right coverage, and you get man coverage, it's mano-a-mano. And when you have a quarterback that trusts you and gives you a chance, it's obviously special to have a guy like that back there.”
Cousins finished Sunday's win with 248 yards, 1 touchdown, and no interceptions on 19-of-31 passing while Thielen had a monster game with 7 catches for 129 yards, overcoming a fumble on the opening drive.
“That play, it's something we haven't tried in a long time,” Thielen said. “We've been practicing it, but I never thought we'd use it there.”