It looked as if the Minnesota Vikings (8-3) were already looking past the Denver Broncos (3-7) and towards their bye week. Down 20-0 at halftime, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and the Vikings had just played their worst half of football all season. The Broncos defense had stifled Minnesota’s offense and star running back Dalvin Cook while moving the ball on their own side of the ball. The past 99 times a team trailed by 20 or more points going into halftime, they had lost. But the $84 million quarterback had other ideas as he showed why he got a hefty payday in March 2018.
You Like That? Kirk Cousins Leads Massive Comeback as Minnesota Vikings Improve to 8-3
A Cousins fumble late in the first half led to a Broncos field goal and 20-0 lead. When the ensuing kickoff return by Ameer Abdullah was fumbled, Denver had a chance to add to the lead. But Broncos quarterback Brandon Allen threw an interception over the middle to recently re-acquired safety Andrew Sendejo. Even though the Vikings only pushed the following drive to their own 40-yard line before punting to end the half, the game was still a three-possession game. The Vikings got booed into the locker room, but there was still a glimmer of hope as the Vikings were set to receive the opening kickoff to the second half.
The Offense Gets in Rhythm
The Vikings came out of the half with a quick-hitting, efficient drive. The nine-play, 75-yard drive culminated in a 10-yard touchdown strike from Cousins to rookie Irv Smith, Jr. In all, the drive only took 3:31 off of the game clock as the Vikings offense finally moved the ball.
Following a seven-minute drive that resulted in a field goal, the Vikings trailed 23-7 and needed a score to keep pace. Cousins continued to pick the Broncos defense apart and the 18-play drive was capped off by a three-yard touchdown run by Cook. Down 10, the Vikings went for the two-point conversion and ran Cook on a jet sweep that was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. With 13:25 left, the Vikings only trailed by 10.
The Big Play Offense Strikes
The two scoring drives to begin the half got the Vikings into the game, but as time began to tick down, they knew they needed to start hitting big plays. When the Vikings got the ball back with just under 11 minutes left, they struck in spectacular fashion. On the third play of the drive, Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs beat Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. on a 54-yard strike. It was the same offensive philosophy the Vikings had used all season, with Cousins rolling to the left and throwing down the seam to Diggs who had gotten inside leverage on Harris. In total, the drive took 35 seconds.
Minnesota’s defense held again as they got the ball back with 8:15 left in the game. Down 23-20, time wasn’t an issue anymore for the offense. After four plays had moved the ball to the Broncos 32-yard line, the Vikings again dipped into their play-action roots. Cousins again faked a handoff, rolled left, and after looking to take a shot to Diggs again, he moved his eyes to his left and lofted a pass to a wide-open Kyle Rudolph who strolled untouched into the endzone. The Vikings had come all the way back and there was still 6:01 left in the game.
The Last Word
Denver moved the ball down the field and had three chances to throw into the endzone and win in the final 10 seconds of the game. The Vikings held strong and improved to 8-3.
But the story of the comeback was Cousins. As the Vikings allowed 397 yards to a mediocre defense, they are clearly now an offensive team despite coach Mike Zimmer‘s defensive roots. Cousins finished 29-of-35 passing for 319 yards and three touchdowns. In his first season-and-a-half with the Vikings, he had performed well when things went well but not in big, clutch moments. After last Sunday’s victory against the Dallas Cowboys and the 20-point comeback against the Broncos, Cousins is showing that the Vikings are never out of a game with him at the helm. He’ll have another big test coming out of the bye week as the Vikings face the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football.