MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins got a second chance and made the most of it.
Just before the two-minute warning Sunday against Green Bay at U.S. Bank Stadium, Cousins threw what he thought was a pivotal interception and walked dejectedly off the field. But he got a reprieve when the pick by safety Darrell Savage was ruled to have hit the ground.
Given new life, Cousins drove the Vikings 59 yards down the field, and Greg Joseph kicked a 29-yard field goal on the final play for a dramatic 34-31 win over the Packers and the 500th regular-season victory in team history.
“Wow, very wild,’’ Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson said of the final minutes of the game.
It sure was. Jefferson, who caught eight passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns, had given the Vikings a 31-24 lead on a 23-yard touchdown catch with 2:17 left. On the next play from scrimmage, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling to tie the score 31-31.
It was then Cousins’ turn to answer. On the second play after the Vikings got the ball back, he threw a high ball from his own 30 intended for Jefferson that Savage initially appeared to pick off at the Packers’ 37 and return it to the Minnesota 26.
“I certainly thought that now the Packers are getting the ball back and they have good field position and it wasn’t a good feeling walking to the sideline, but (quarterbacks) coach (Andrew) Janocko told me that he may have dropped it,’’ said Cousins, who also had a second-quarter interception by Savage called back due to a roughing-the-passer penalty.
A replay showed that was indeed the case, and the Vikings (5-5) retained possession with 2:01 remaining. They then drove down the field for the win over the NFC North-leading Packers (8-3) that puts them back in good position for at least a wild-card berth. The Vikings are now in the No. 6 spot in the NFC, and seven teams will make the playoffs.
“I’m glad this team came through in the clutch at the end of the game, finishing the game off, and Greg got the kick down,’’ Jefferson said.
The Vikings mixed the run and the pass with effectiveness on their final drive. And when Dalvin Cook had a 12-yard run to the Packers’ 7 for the first down with 1:19 left in the game, he made sure to fall down and not score a touchdown.
“I wanted to score so bad,’’ Cook said. “But I knew I couldn’t get Aaron Rodgers the football (back).”
Cousins, who completed 24 of 35 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns, called it a “really aware play’’ by Cook. Cousins then had two kneel downs to run time off the clock before Joseph’s decisive field goal.
“It feels absolutely amazing, being able to put a W in the column for the guys in the locker room,’’ Joseph said of his team’s second straight win.
The Vikings controlled most of the game before a crowd of 66,959, the second largest in the six-year history of U.S. Bank Stadium. They had leads of 16-3 in the second quarter and 23-10 in the third quarter before Rodgers brought the Packers back.
Rodgers, who completed 23 of 33 passes for 385 yards and four touchdowns, threw TD passes of 10 yards to Davante Adams late in the third quarter and 18 yards to Adams midway through the fourth quarter to give the Packers a 24-23 lead.
The Vikings have blown big leads all season. They lost a 13-point lead at Arizona in a 34-33 loss on Sept. 19 and a 14-point lead in a 34-31 overtime loss at Baltimore on Oct. 17. They lost leads of 10 or more points in three other games but were able to come back and beat Detroit, Carolina and the Los Angeles Chargers.
“Everything matters,’’ Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of the lost leads. “The wins matter, too.”
Zimmer was pleased with the Vikings’ offense, saying it was “outstanding” throughout the game. He was less thrilled with the defense, saying the unit played well in the first half but “couldn’t get them stopped in the second half.’’
For the second straight game, Cousins was aggressive throwing the ball down the field. With the score tied 3-3 in the first quarter, he had a 56-yard throw to Jefferson to the Packers’ 1, setting up 1-yard touchdown run by Cook. Joseph missed the extra point, but the Vikings were later able to make up for that when Cook scored on a two-point conversion following Jefferson’s touchdown with 2:17 remaining.
“I thought (offensive coordinator Klint) Kubiak did a great job all game long with the way he kept us in really positive situations,’’ Cousins said.
Cousins threw a 10-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to Adam Thielen that put the Vikings up 16-3, three plays after a Savage interception was called back due to a roughing-the-passer penalty on Kingsley Keke. Cousins also had a 9-yard touchdown pass to Jefferson in the third quarter for a 23-10 lead.
“I was telling (teammates) I’m not leaving today without getting in the end zone, so glad I got in there twice,’’ Jefferson said.
The Vikings had 408 yards of total offense, but the Packers rolled up 467. Cornerback Patrick Peterson called the game “a rollercoaster ride.”
“We just started a bit too slow and didn’t put up points,’’ Rodgers said of the Packers only having three points until closing the gap to 16-10 on his 25-yard TD pass to Josiah Deguara with 30 seconds left in the first half.
Meanwhile, the Vikings got a much-needed win for playoff positioning and raised their all-time regular-season record 500-417-11. Cook said after the game that the rival Packers “were definitely a good team” to beat for the milestone win.