Down 20-7 to the Green Bay Packers entering the fourth quarter on Sunday, Cousins orchestrated a thundering comeback at Lambeau Field, throwing for 138 yards and three touchdowns in the final 15 minutes of regulation to force overtime.
Minnesota’s final drive of the quarter required Cousins to execute a touchdown drive and cap it off with a twp-point conversion to tie the game 29-29.
He did just that with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen, the kind that makes you wonder how it was physically possible for Cousins to fit a ball through a window so narrow it defied the term "threading the needle."
Facing pressure with 37 seconds left after nose tackle Mike Daniels barreled his way past center Brett Jones and into the backfield, Cousins launched a pass down the right sideline, fitting it through a microscopic opening between two defenders and into the hands of Thielen, who caught the ball inside the 3-yard line before falling into the end zone.
Here's a closer look at the touchdown pass that was instantly chalked up as one of the best of Cousins’ career.
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook: "When you practice with Kirk every day, the first couple of times you see him make some of the throws, you’ll be like ‘God!’ but it’s starting to become a habit. That’s just what he does. That’s just who he is. That’s why he’s getting paid the big dollars. Kirk, he puts so much time into his craft and he takes it so personal to where when he goes on the field, he just makes it look so easy. Some of the throws he makes, he expects to make those throws."
Vikings running back Latavius Murray: "I thought it was an unbelievable pass and then great catch by Adam to be able to track the ball with those two defenders kind of I guess stepping in front of his vision. I think that’s what those guys are here for. That’s what Kirk has done in the past, and I think that’s what Adam has done here for some time is stepping up in moments."
Prior to the snap, Packers rookie cornerback Jaire Alexander was lined up 5 yards off Thielen before dropping back to track the receiver’s route. Safety Kentrell Brice dropped down to help his teammate inside the 5-yard line, but twists at the last second to prevent himself from barreling into Alexander and ends up missing the football.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy: "I think there is a subconscious component to that. I think that’s part of playing safety in this league for the last five-or-so years. I did not talk to him this week one-on-one about it. It looked like, just watching the video, I think he got caught in-between going for the ball and going for the hit."
In noting Cousins’ pinpoint precision, Thielen said that the ball likely would have been batted down had it been thrown an inch higher or an inch lower. As Thielen flipped his head around to his left shoulder to track the ball (while Alexander had his back turned), he utilized a "late hands" technique to snag the catch at the last possible instant.
Thielen: "I saw the ball and I knew it was going to get over the defender’s head. I didn’t see the safety, but I knew he was probably going to be closing in on me. But for me it was just make sure that I have really late hands so the defender can’t come up and put his hands up and knock it down. And I knew that if it could just sneak over his head it was going to be a catch. For me it was just trying to be as late as I possibly could to put my hands up and try to complete it."
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer: "The receivers practice it all the time. They run down the field. N0. 1, if you’re running and you stick your hands up you’re going to slow down. They want to continue to run, really they want to look back and then at the last second put their hands up. He was falling down at the time. We’re glad he got pushed into the end zone."
Making tight-window throws in the red zone has been a point of emphasis for Cousins. It’s never easy, and while others praised the QB’s accuracy on his throw, Cousins critiqued his miraculous touchdown, saying the throw was "probably too close for comfort" with how close the safety was to Thielen and how less space, particularly inside the 5-yard line where Thielen caught the ball, makes it difficult to execute.
Cousins: "There’s less grass to cover, and so there’s just 22 players in a much smaller area. I just have always felt like you have to be more decisive with your reads, very accurate. Your receivers have to be detailed with their spacing, their splits, their route depths. And then obviously defensive players, they know they’re trying to hold you to a field goal."
But that’s a risk offensive coordinator John DeFilippo wants Cousins to take. With a chance to go to overtime on the line and having seen Cousins make those types of plays before, DeFilippo wanted his quarterback to lay it on the line in that moment.
DeFilippo: "There is a fine line. There are certain points in a game situation [when] you have to take chances. If that was a random second down in the middle of the second quarter, I would’ve been like, 'Hey, that one is a little tight.' But you are trying to drive down and win the football game. There is less than a minute to go in the game. Those are the chances you have to take. You want your quarterback to feel comfortable and feel confident in themselves throwing those types of balls in those situations ... In my mind, that is a situation you need to take a chance."