ST. PAUL — During one masterful drive last weekend, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins changed the narrative surrounding him.
The $84 million man who couldn’t win the big game — any big game — was nothing short of spectacular in overtime to lead the Vikings to an improbable 26-20 wild-card win over the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome.
Whether it was hitting Stefon Diggs with a strike on third down, dropping an absolute dime to Adam Thielen over the top, or lofting a perfect fade pass to Kyle Rudolph in the corner of the end zone, Cousins was the star of the upset, stepping up when the Vikings needed him most.
That said, he is the first person to admit he had an incredible supporting cast last weekend.
Dalvin Cook rushing for 94 yards kept the Saints’ pass rush honest. The offensive line blocked as well as it has all season. The defense made play after play — an Anthony Harris interception and a Danielle Hunter forced fumble come to mind — to keep the Vikings in control all game.
What happens if those things don’t happen against the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday?
As much as Cousins deserves credit for making the big plays when it mattered most last weekend, his teammates allowed him to operate under almost perfect conditions for more than 60 minutes of action.
He’s supposed to win a game like that. Absolutely everything was going right around him.
That more than likely won’t be the case this weekend as the Vikings are sure to have their hands full against the 49ers.
Needless to say, the game script could play out much differently this week.
What if Cook gets bottled up against a stout defensive front? What if super-freak 49ers rookie Nick Bosa wreaks havoc off the edge? What if the uber-handsome Jimmy Garoppolo charms the defense with his infectious smile?
There’s a good chance Cousins is going to have to walk into Levi's Stadium this weekend and steal a game for the Vikings.
Can he do that? That’s the next test for him as he works to cement his legacy — good or bad — in the Twin Cities.
In the past, when the going has got tough for Cousins, he has almost instinctively curled up into a fetal position in the pocket, throwing check down after check down, unwilling or unable to push the ball down the field.
It’s incredible, actually, how Cousins can look dynamic in a clean pocket, then revert back to his Pop Warner days when the pressure gets revved up.
Remember the Week 16 game with Green Bay Packers.
The Vikings started strong that game, completely taking control in the first half. But when things started to go haywire in the second half, Cousins folded like a lawn chair. And it wasn’t the first time.
Heck, even last weekend, before Cousins got the ball in overtime, he was exceedingly average during the first four quarters.
That cannot happen this weekend.
There are more than likely going to be times when Cousins feels everything is crumbling around him. He has to rise up in those moments.
Maybe it’s something as simple as converting a crucial third down. Maybe it’s something more complex, like avoiding pressure and making a throw he’s not supposed to make.
Whatever it is, Cousins has to continue to prove he can be the guy he was in the final few minutes of last week’s game.
All season, he has leaned into the pressure that comes with being a franchise quarterback in the NFL, talking about how that person gets all the glory after big wins and all the blame after big losses.
Never will that be more true than this weekend.