Kirk Cousins threw a 43-yard pass to Adam Thielen and a 4-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph to polish off the only offensive possession of overtime as the visiting Minnesota Vikings defeated the New Orleans Saints 26-20 in an NFC wild-card playoff game Sunday Jan. 5 at the Superdome.
"I'm so proud of our team, the way we fought," Rudolph said afterward on the Fox broadcast. "Nobody gave us a chance to win here today, except for everybody in our organization. We believed."
Minnesota won the coin toss to start overtime and used a 43-yard pass from Cousins to Adam Thielen to get a first down at the New Orleans 2-yard line.
After two runs by Dalvin Cook set up third-and-goal from the 4, Cousins found Rudolph in the back corner of the end zone against cornerback P.J. Williams.
The Vikings, the No. 6 seed after finishing 10-6, advance to play at No. 1 seed San Francisco next Saturday. The Saints were the No. 3 seed after winning the NFC South with a 13-3 record.
"I thought we played well in all three phases," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "New Orleans is a really good football team. We were a little bit undermanned on defense, but they fought their rear ends off. I think we're tough."
Cook rushed 28 times for 94 yards and two touchdowns, and Thielen caught seven passes for 129 yards, including his diving grab -- which came with top Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore on the sideline with an injury -- to set up the winning score.
Thielen's 129 yards receiving rank seventh-most by a Viking in a playoff game and the most since Stefon Diggs had 137 yards at New Orleans in January of 2018. It was Thielen's first 100-yard playoff game of his career, his second of the 2019 season and 18th overall.
Cousins completed 19 of 31 passes for 242 yards in his first road playoff start.
"I'm proud of Kirk, blocking out the noise, coming down here and playing huge all game," Rudolph said.
It was the first playoff win for Cousins in his eight-year NFL career, the first six with Washington. With the Redskins, he got into one playoff game as a reserve as a rookie in 2012 and another as starter in 2015.
Cousins called it a “team win.” He didn’t want to talk about the idea that Sunday provided any sort of relief from a personal standpoint.
“I’m thrilled we won a playoff game, and I just do my part,” Cousins said. “We won the game because we played great defense, got a turnover (on a Brees fumble Brees in the fourth quarter) had good special teams, great play calling and a great plan. … There’s a whole lot of reasons we won the game. Does the quarterback play a role in that? Yes, but it was team win.”
“We don’t listen to that (external) stuff,” Thielen said of criticism Cousins gets. “We don’t listen to that noise. We know what type of guy he is. We know his talent. We know that if you put guys around him, you can do big things because he is talented and he’s that hard of a worker. … It doesn’t matter what someone says about him, and that’s who you want as your leader and your quarterback.”
Drew Brees completed 26 of 33 for 208 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw an interception and lost a fumble. It was the Saints' first game all season with multiple turnovers committed.
"At the end of the day they made a few more plays than we did," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "It took us a while to get going offensively, then we got a little momentum in the second half. Our defense held up. You have to tip your hats to Minnesota. They deserved to win."
Minnesota led 13-10 at halftime and extended its lead on Cook's 1-yard touchdown run with 3:23 left in the third quarter.
The Saints went scoreless in the second half until Brees threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Taysom Hill to pull within 20-17 with 10:31 remaining.
New Orleans drove to a first down at the Vikings 20 on its next possession, but Brees fumbled while being sacked by Danielle Hunter. Jalyn Holmes recovered for Minnesota at its 36.
Four plays later New Orleans appeared to take the lead when Cook was tackled, the ball came loose and safety Vonn Bell picked up the ball and ran 38 yards to the end zone. But replays showed that Cook was down by contact before the ball came loose, and the touchdown was overturned.
The Saints then forced a punt, and Brees drove them 39 yards to Wil Lutz's 49-yard field goal with two seconds left to tie the score and force overtime.
(Tribune Sports Editor Robert Williams and St. Paul Pioneer Press Vikings reporter Chris Tomasson contributed to this story)