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Kirk Cousins has been Captain Comeback for Vikings this season

The Vikings are an incredible 11-0 in one-score games, setting an NFL record. Eight of those victories have involved fourth-quarter comebacks.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins throws against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium. Cousins threw for a career-high 460 yards and four touchdowns in the dramatic overtime win.
Jeffrey Becker / USA Today Sports
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EAGAN, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has tied an NFL record this season by engineering eight fourth-quarter comebacks. However, it’s a record he would welcome not holding by himself.

With games left Sunday at Green Bay and the following weekend at Chicago, Cousins sure wouldn’t mind a pair of routine wins.

“There’s no doubt we’re chasing that game where you put it all together and maybe a fourth-quarter comeback isn’t required,” he said Wednesday.

Cousins said the Vikings are still working on playing a “flawless” game. For now, at least they’re winning games on a regular basis, even if they require fourth-quarter comebacks.

The Vikings (12-3) are an incredible 11-0 in one-score games, setting NFL records for the most such games without a loss to start a season and most wins in such games overall. Eight of those victories have involved fourth-quarter comebacks, which has put Cousins in the record book for quarterbacks alongside Matthew Stafford, who did it for Detroit in 2016. Stafford is now with the Los Angeles Rams, and led them to a Super Bowl win last season.

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Cousins_Kirk mug.jpg
Kirk Cousins

Cousins stressed that quarterback comebacks are “really a team statistic.” Regardless, in his previous four Vikings seasons combined, he had just six total comebacks.

“You have to have so many other pieces come together, and really your coaches have to have a great plan in the fourth quarter, in the two-minute drill, making in-game adjustments, such that you’re playing your best football in those moments,” Cousins said.

Calling the plays this year has been offensive-minded Kevin O’Connell, who replaced defensive-minded Mike Zimmer as Minnesota’s head coach after last season. Former Vikings quarterback and longtime NFL analyst Rich Gannon said Wednesday that Cousins “and the play-caller, Kevin, are on the same page” after “I think there was some tension in years past” between the quarterback and head coach.

Cousins is entering his 11th NFL season. He said “experience makes a difference” in being able to lead comebacks.

“If you can say, ‘I’ve been here before, I’ve done this before, I’ve failed before in this moment,’ I think even just having been there and learned from past experiences will always help,” Cousins said.

Mind and body

On Wednesday, O’Connell reeled off some of the attributes Cousins has that have helped him lead so many comebacks.

“All his physical attributes of throwing the football give him the opportunity to make those special types of throws in those gotta-have-them moments where ball location and timing and rhythm are paramount for you to have a chance to have success in those critical moments,” O’Connell said. “(Cousins has the) willingness to trust his teammates and combine that with great pocket movement, toughness to stand in there, understanding the risk-reward of the moment and being able to meet that moment and make the play.”

Tight end T.J. Hockenson wasn’t with the Lions when Stafford set the comeback record in 2016, but he did play with him in Detroit in 2019 and 2020. Hockenson, who has been on hand for five of Cousins’ 2022 comebacks since being acquired Nov. 1 from the Lions, sees similarities between the two quarterbacks in crunch time.

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“Stafford was very poised in what he did and that kind of (rubs off on the rest of the offense), and that’s kind of what I get from Kirk, just very poised,” Hockenson said. “There’s never a doubt in their heads or that they show.”

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Cousins’ most notable comebacks this season have been leading the Vikings back from a 17-point deficit late in the third quarter to win 33-30 at Buffalo in overtime on Nov. 13 and leading them back from a 33-0 halftime deficit to beat Indianapolis on Dec. 17. The Colts game set a record for the biggest comeback win in NFL history.

“It’s amazing,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said of Cousins’ eight overall comebacks. “Kirk is as tough as nails, first of all. I think he doesn’t get enough credit for that and he doesn’t get enough credit for a lot of things. But that’s beside the point. He’s been playing great for us. Obviously, those eight comeback victories are crucial in the crunch times of the games.”

On Wednesday, Cousins was named winner of the Athletes in Action/Bart Starr Award, which goes annually to an NFL player who “best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field, and in the community.”

It perhaps is appropriate for Cousins to get that award this season considering Starr twice led the NFL in fourth-quarter comebacks when he was Green Bay’s quarterback from 1956-71. And Starr led the Packers in one of the most famous comebacks of all time, a 21-17 win over Dallas in the “Ice Bowl” NFL Championship Game at Lambeau Field in 1967.

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins celebrates the win after the game against the New England Patriots on Nov. 24, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins celebrates the win after the game against the New England Patriots on Nov. 24, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Matt Krohn / USA Today Sports

Cousins will be back in Green Bay on Sunday for the first time since 2020. He missed the next-to-last game of 2021 at Lambeau Field after testing positive for COVID. Cousins, who watched the 37-10 loss on television, called it a “difficult time.”

Zimmer was fired as head coach eight days after that game, and replaced a month later by O’Connell. And now Cousins is leading comebacks with regularity.

“We would not be nearly where we are as a 12-3 football team without him being able to do that,” O’Connell said.

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