LANDOVER, Md. – Kirk Cousins got the game ball after leading the Minnesota Vikings to a comeback victory against the team he started his NFL career with, and the first thought that came to his mind was starting a chant with the most famous words from his time with Washington.
“You like that?! You like that?” he and his teammates shouted in the visiting locker room.
Cousins and the Vikings are off to their best start since 2009 after rallying to beat the Commanders 20-17 Sunday. They really like that.
“We’re finding ways to win,” Cousins said. “We grind on and keep trying to pull them out in the end here.”
Minnesota pulled out this win thanks to two touchdown passes by Cousins, Harrison Smith's interception of Taylor Heinicke and a go-ahead 28-yard field goal by Greg Joseph with 12 seconds left.
Playing his first game at Washington as a visitor, Cousins rebounded from an interception at the end of the first half and popped back up after one of several big hits to finish 20 of 40 for 265 yards with TD passes to Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook. He led three fourth-quarter scoring drives to cap off an emotional return that started with pulling into a familiar stadium in an unfamiliar role and ended with smiles.
“It feels great to win in this league,” Cousins said. “I had so many warm memories coming in, and so on the way out, to be able to remember those as well with a win is so much better than after a loss.”
Besides catching Cousins' first TD pass in the first quarter, Jefferson came down with a 47-yard completion in the fourth. Jefferson finished with seven catches for 115 yards as the Vikings (7-1) extended their lead atop the NFC North and avoided what would have been their first loss since Sept. 19 at Philadelphia.
“A win is a win,” safety Camryn Bynum said. “We’ve got to know that we’re not playing our best ball yet, but it’s coming.”
Heinicke's magic ran out on the interception after he threw two touchdown passes, including an inexplicable heave into triple coverage that Curtis Samuel came down with after a Minnesota defender ran into an official, and had the crowd chanting his name. He was 14 of 27 for 139 yards but could not lead another game-winning scoring drive, and the Commanders (4-5) had their winning streak snapped at three.
“We got some opportunities,” coach Ron Rivera said. “We didn’t take advantage of the opportunities. Enough mistakes to go around for everybody."
One of those mistakes was a penalty on defensive lineman John Ridgeway on Joseph's initial field goal attempt with under two minutes remaining, which allowed the Vikings to run the clock down further and effectively ice the game.
“We teach the guy to go across the guy’s face to get across,” Rivera said. “What we were told is that he ran through the guy’s head and neck area. I can’t tell you whether he did or didn’t.”
After Antonio Gibson gave Washington strong field position to start the second half with a 45-yard kickoff return, Heinicke provided one of the highlights of the game with one of the weirdest plays of the NFL season.
Heinicke made the risky decision to heave the ball into the air from midfield like a Hail Mary, and it looked like a certain interception until Bynum collided with back judge Steve Patrick, who was trying to get out of the way. Samuel got in front of Smith and cornerback Patrick Peterson and made the catch at the goal line.
"Definitely need to give a game ball to that ref for knocking down that safety," Heinicke said with a chuckle.
Tight end T.J. Hockenson caught all nine passes Cousins threw his way for 70 yards in his Vikings debut, less than a week after they acquired him in a deal at the trade deadline from division rival Detroit. Cousins praised Hockenson for learning Minnesota's offense in four days after what took him four months.
“He’s kind of making me look bad,” Cousins said. “Not one time in the huddle did I feel like he was looking at me like he didn’t know what to do. Just very much on top of it — gave me a sense of ease as a result.”
Cousins was not the only member of the Vikings able to celebrate a winning return. First-year coach Kevin O'Connell spent three seasons with Washington as an assistant and enjoyed this one in the aftermath of wife Leah giving birth to their fourth child, daughter Cassie Grace, Friday.
“I just feel so blessed having been there and then get a chance to make sure she was in a good place and would receive incredible care helped me to be confident to come out here with our team and try to get a win,” O'Connell said. “But I cannot wait to get back there. Just so excited to get back to my family and really spend some more time with my new daughter.”
Vikings: CB Cameron Dantzler left in the first half with an ankle injury and was quickly ruled out after halftime. O'Connell said Dantzler would likely have an MRI Monday and did not want to put a timetable on how much time the third-year pro might miss. ... DT Dalvin Tomlinson missed the game with a calf injury.
Commanders: WR Jahan Dotson (hamstring) missed a fifth consecutive game and LB Cole Holcomb (foot) a second in a row.
Vikings: Visit the Buffalo Bills next Sunday.
Commanders: Travel to Philadelphia to face the Eagles on Monday, Nov. 14.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL