Somehow, someway, the Minnesota Vikings won.
In a game that they appeared to lose several different times, the Vikings pulled out a clutch 28-27 victory over the Panthers to keep their season alive. Kirk Cousins found Chad Beebe for a touchdown with 46 seconds left and Joey Slye's game-winning field goal attempt went wide left as time expired.
It was the ultimate redemption touchdown for Beebe, who muffed a punt just minutes earlier that appeared to cost the Vikings the game. But the defense came up huge, holding Carolina to a field goal, and Kirk Cousins led a 75-yard game-winning touchdown drive.
The Vikings survived Beebe's muffed punt, an absurd 18-second stretch where the Panthers scored defensive touchdowns on two consecutive plays, and committing eight penalties to eke out one of their more improbable victories in recent memory.
Dalvin Cook left the game with an injury but was able to return. He was held to 82 yards from scrimmage, his first time with less than 100 total yards since Week 2 and just his second game without a touchdown all year.
With the win and the Cardinals' loss to the Patriots, the Vikings are 5-6 and just one game out of a playoff spot in the NFC. They can improve to .500 next weekend by beating the 1-10 Jaguars at home.
Here are three takeaways from the Vikings' thrilling victory.
Cousins gets the job done in crunch time
One thing that Kirk Cousins has frequently gotten criticized for throughout his career is the idea that he can't lead his team to victories in clutch situations late in games. It happened last week against the Cowboys, with Cousins – who was hurt by a Justin Jefferson drop – failing to pick up a first down with a chance to tie the game.
Today, he flipped that narrative on its head. Cousins got the ball down 27-21 with less than two minutes remaining and just one timeout, and made swift work of a game-winning drive. He completed six of seven passes for 75 yards, including the touchdown to Beebe, and took just 65 seconds of game clock to do it.
Cousins finished the day 34 of 45 for 307 passing yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and he did it without top receiver Adam Thielen. Cousins spread the ball around, finding each of Justin Jefferson, Beebe, Bisi Johnson, and Kyle Rudolph for exactly seven receptions. Jefferson continued his stellar rookie season by scoring two touchdowns.
He takes a lot of flack when the Vikings don't get the job done, but Cousins deserves a ton of respect for pulling this game out and saving the season.
The Vikings' defense came up huge
Take away the two fumbles returned for touchdowns by the Panthers' Jeremy Chinn and the Vikings only gave up 13 points in this game. That's a credit to an incredible effort by their defense, which came up big several different times in this one.
Eric Kendricks had his third interception in the past four weeks to keep the Panthers off the scoreboard early in the second quarter. All three of Kendricks' picks have come inside his own red zone.
After the Panthers took a 21-10 lead on the two Chinn touchdowns, they could only manage a pair of field goals for the remainder of the game. The Vikings' defense stepped up and kept them out of the end zone, making it possible for the offense to go win the game.
The Vikings are right in the playoff mix
It wouldn't have mattered if the Vikings had lost, but a very important result occurred in New England at the same time as this game was unfolding in Minneapolis. The Patriots pulled out a 20-17 victory over the Cardinals, dropping Arizona to 6-5.
When the Vikings escaped with their own narrow victory minutes later, they were suddenly just one game out of the final wild card spot in the NFC.
The Vikings get the Jaguars and their ten-game losing streak next week, setting up a clear path to 6-6. Meanwhile, the Cardinals will host the red-hot Rams next Sunday.
By finding a way to win a close game for the first time this year, the Vikings are not only alive in the playoff hunt, but they have a very real chance to get there if they can clean up their mistakes going forward.
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