SIPA USA/PA Images Cousins led his team to victory in overtime.
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Kirk Cousins and underdog Vikings stun Saints in overtime

The Vikings will travel to face the San Francisco 49ers in the next round.

THE MINNESOTA VIKINGS booked a trip to San Francisco in the NFL playoffs with a dramatic 26-20 overtime victory at the heavily favoured New Orleans Saints in the NFC Wild Card round on Sunday.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, long perceived as a player who flatters to deceive on the big occasion, marched the Vikings toward a winning touchdown with the first possession of the added period, eventually finding tight-end Kyle Rudolph in the end zone to silence the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Cousins’ short-range touchdown pass to Rudolph followed the most significant throw of his career, a pinpoint 43-yard dart to wide receiver Adam Thielen who caught the ball and fell towards the two-metre line.

The Vikings quarterback achieved his first career playoff victory by taking Minnesota 75 yards in nine plays.

“Just happy we won. It was a great game. It was a great team win,” said Cousins after his 14th career game-winning late drive, politely declining the invitation to answer the critics who have taken aim at him throughout his career.

Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook ran 28 times for 94 yards and two touchdowns for the visiting Vikings, who will travel to National Conference top seed San Francisco next Saturday.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, 10 days shy of his 41st birthday, completed 26 of 33 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown but costly turnovers foiled the favored Saints.

“I’m so proud of the way we fought,” Vikings game-winner Rudolph said. “Nobody gave us a chance to win today but us.”

Cook’s 1-yard touchdown run with 3:23 remaining in the third quarter capped an eight-play, 64-yard march to give Minnesota a 20-10 lead.

But the Saints answered with an 85-yard drive in eight plays, which ended on a 20-yard Brees touchdown pass to Taysom Hill with 10:31 remaining, pulling New Orleans within 20-17. Brees went 5-for-5 passing for 71 yards in the scoring march.

Brees moved the Saints downfield again but Jamaican-born Danielle Hunter of the Vikings knocked loose a fumble, Brees’s first of the season, and Minnesota’s Jalyn Holmes recovered with 4:18 remaining.

Saints defender A.J. Klein appeared to have recovered a Cook fumble and returned it for a touchdown on the next Vikings possession, but a video review overturned the play, ruling Cook was down before losing the ball, keeping Minnesota ahead.

New Orleans had a final chance in regulation time and Wil Lutz kicked a 49-yard field goal with two seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to pull the Saints level at 20-20 and send the game into over-time.

Cook’s 5-yard touchdown run with 23 seconds remaining in the second quarter gave the Vikings a 13-10 lead. The play was set up when Brees surrendered his first interception in six games to Minnesota’s Anthony Harris.

Deonte Harris returned the ensuing kickoff 54 yards and Brees threw a 20-yard pass to Michael Thomas to the Vikings 25-yard line, but Lutz pushed a 43-yard field goal attempt wide right to leave Minnesota ahead by three at half-time.

The Saints took a 10-3 lead on Alvin Kamara’s 4-yard touchdown run, but the Vikings trimmed the lead on Dan Bailey’s 21-yard field goal.

Lutz kicked a 29-yard field goal and Bailey booted a 43-yarder in the first quarter.

© – AFP 2020  

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