The pass will read in the game log as a simple 43-yard play that advanced the ball from the 45-yard line to the 2-yard line. But it was so much more than that.
The pass came in overtime of the Vikings’ wild-card game in New Orleans with the score tied 20-20. The Vikings had the football, and if they scored a touchdown, they would win.
The pass was gorgeous, sailing deep on a tight rope and landing softly into the hands of Adam Thielen, who cradled it like a baseball player scooping a ball into his glove underhanded.
The pass set up the winning score in a 26-20 final. The pass was perfect. The pass was historic.
And for Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, the pass was everything.
With that singular pass, a narrative reached an untimely death. Cousins was elevated from being thought of as a perennial choker to being seen as the one doing the choking, ending an opponent’s season in the playoffs.
“I’m just glad Kirk can’t win big games, apparently,” said Kyle Rudolph, sarcastically, on the Fox broadcast after the game. “I think we just proved that one wrong today.”
This is a big deal. This is a very big deal.
Cousins, constantly, has shrunk like cotton underwear washed on hot during big moments in the past. He was a stat guy, accumulating numbers but not big wins.
This was his reputation—not just with media and fans, but with many in the league. Some thought he was really talented, others that he was an overpaid laughingstock.
This can’t be emphasized enough. There were many people in football who believed Cousins would never, ever have this signature moment.
And not only did he have it, but he also had it in overtime, on the road, against one of the best defenses in the league and in one of the most hostile environments in football. In a playoff game. With the game—checks notes—on the line. He did exactly what many thought he’d never do.
Cousins, of course, had help in what was one of the best team efforts of the Vikings’ season. Thielen had seven catches for 129 yards. Running back Dalvin Cook blasted the Saints and had two rushing touchdowns, the most for a Vikings runner in the postseason since Adrian Peterson, also against the Saints back in 2009.
Cousins was also helped by an unlikely person: New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees.
Brees rallied a bit late, but he was contained and ineffective for much of the game. Early in the fourth quarter, he had 79 yards passing, no touchdowns and one interception. Those are the kinds of numbers you’d expect from Mason Rudolph, not one of the most devastating passers in the history of football. He also fumbled in the fourth quarter, his first of the season.
Taysom Hill, not Brees, was the reason the Saints even had a chance. The third-year former college quarterback had two catches for 25 yards and a touchdown, completed his only pass for a 50-yard gain to set up the Saints’ other touchdown (a four-yard Alvin Kamara run) and rushed four times for 50 yards.
We have spent inordinate amounts of time wondering about the future of Tom Brady. It’s also fair to wonder what the Saints will do with Brees. This was not a great moment for him.
It was for Cousins.
It was the moment. The pass.
Then, after that one, he dropped in a nice touch pass to Rudolph for the game-winner. That was two consecutive clutch plays in huge moments from the guy we all thought couldn’t make one.
In his final game of the regular season before sitting out Week 17, Cousins was held to 16-of-31 for 122 yards with a touchdown and an interception by the Packers. The Vikings got beat to a pulp, 23-10, and Cousins fell to 0-9 in Monday Night Football games.
It seemed to confirm the can’t-win-the-big-game rep that’s been draped around his neck right next to his three-year, $84 million dollar deal.
After the Week 16 game, Packers linebacker Preston Smith mocked Cousins, because everyone did then.
But now…now is different.
B/R Gridiron @brgridiron
You like that? https://t.co/DoA6Nh2mp5
And yes, Kirk, your team and its fans have every reason to like that.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.