Cousins comes up big

Maligned QB de­liv­ers in OT, send­ing Vik­ings into di­vi­sional round

Orlando Sentinel - - NFL - By Brett Martel

NEW OR­LEANS — Af­ter tight end Kyle Ru­dolph emerged from a pur­ple swarm of cel­e­brat­ing Vik­ings near the cor­ner of the end zone, he took an op­por­tu­nity to mock those who doubted quar­ter­back Kirk Cousins’ abil­ity to come through in the clutch.

“I’m just glad Kirk can’t win big games, ap­par­ently,” Ru­dolph said. “We proved that one wrong to­day.”

Cousins hit Ru­dolph with a 4-yard fade on third-and-goal in OT, and the Vik­ings pulled out a 26-20 vic­tory over the fa­vored Saints in the wild-card round of the NFC play­offs Sun­day.

Cousins lost his only pre­vi­ous play­off start in 2015 with the Red­skins, came up short of a play­off berth on the fi­nal reg­u­larsea­son game a year ago and strug­gled in a hand­ful of other high-pro­file games.

Yet Cousins es­chewed an op­por­tu­nity to gloat af­ter his pass to Ru­dolph — and a 43-yarder to Adam Thie­len at the Saints 2-yard line three plays ear­lier — helped the Vik­ings (11-6) ad­vance to play the top-seeded 49ers in the di­vi­sional round of the play­offs Satur­day. It was the Vik­ings’ first road play­off win since Jan. 9, 2005, when they beat the ri­val Pack­ers at Lam­beau Field in the wild-card round.

“I’m just happy we won,” Cousins said. “It was a great, great game, two good foot­ball teams.”

Saints fans begged to dif­fer af­ter see­ing their team’s sea­son end in over­time in the Su­per­dome for a sec­ond straight year.

The lat­est dis­ap­point­ing end for the Saints (13-4) came nearly a year af­ter they lost in the NFC ti­tle game to the Rams in a game marred by missed Rams penal­ties. This time, re­plays on video boards showed a pos­si­ble pushoff by Ru­dolph against de­fen­sive back P.J. Wil­liams mo­ments be­fore he jumped to snag the win­ning catch.

NFL pres­i­dent of of­fi­ci­at­ing Al Riveron said the league re­viewed numer­ous re­play an­gles, and while they saw con­tact by both play­ers, “none of that con­tact rises to the level of a foul.”

Saints coach Sean Pay­ton said the Vik­ings “de­served to win.”

Dalvin Cook gained 130 yards from scrim­mage and scored two TDs af­ter miss­ing the last two reg­u­lar-sea­son games with an in­jury. Cousins fin­ished with 242 yards and one TD pass­ing.

“Be­ing a fourth-round pick and kind of work­ing your way up in the league — now you win a play­off game. Guess what? You re­al­ize there’s more moun­tains to climb,” Cousins said. “You just keep chas­ing the next moun­tain and there will al­ways be peo­ple who are go­ing to crit­i­cize you — that’s OK.”

The Saints trailed by 10 at the start of the fourth quar­ter but forced over­time with Drew Brees’ 20-yard touch­down pass to Taysom Hill and Wil Lutz’s 49yard field goal with 2 sec­onds left.

“They made more plays than we did,” Pay­ton said. “They ran the ball bet­ter than we did.”

Hill was the Saints’ lead­ing rusher with 50 yards and Alvin Ka­mara was held to 21 yards rush­ing on seven car­ries.

“Both de­fenses played well,” Pay­ton added. “Shoot, here you are in over­time and they made a few plays right there at the end that ob­vi­ously were sig­nif­i­cant.”

The Vik­ings de­fense forced Brees into two turnovers — one game af­ter the Saints had fin­ished the reg­u­lar sea­son with an NFL record-low eight. Brees also was sacked three times and fin­ished 26 of 33 for 208 yards with one TD and an in­ter­cep­tion.

Brees’ first turnover came on a deep throw down­field late in the first half. That led to Cook’s first TD that gave the Vik­ings a 13-10 lead.

The Saints were threat­en­ing with less than five min­utes re­main­ing in the fourth quar­ter when Danielle Hunter sacked Brees, who lost the ball.

CHRIS GRAYTHEN/GETTY

QB Kirk Cousins cel­e­brates with backup Sean Man­nion af­ter the Vik­ings’ vic­tory. Cousins threw for 242 yards and the game-win­ning TD in OT.

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