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O'HARA: Cousins becoming a difference maker for Vikings

When quarterback Kirk Cousins was given the opportunity to take credit for the Minnesota Vikings' 28-24 road win over the Dallas Cowboys last month, he did what he's done with the football all season.

He spread the credit around to his teammates.

It was a big win for the Vikings in their push to make the playoffs for the third time in six seasons under head coach Mike Zimmer.

And on a personal level, it was a big win for Cousins. It was his first win on the road against a team with a winning record in the former Michigan State standout's two seasons with the Vikings. He had seven losses and a tie going into the Dallas (now 6-6) game.

Cousins was asked by an NFC media member on the field after the game what the road win meant to him.

"First of all, the Vikings beat a winning team," Cousins said. "Football is a team game. And today I relied on my teammates.

"I was just a part of this big win tonight."

Cousins was coolly efficient against the Cowboys – as he has been most of the season in leading the Vikings to an 8-4 won-loss record going into Sunday's home game against the Detroit Lions

He completed 23 of 32 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns without an interception or a fumble. He got help from a running game that produced 153 yards, and from a defense that limited the Cowboys to 50 yards on the ground.

The Vikings are a game behind the first-place Green Bay Packers in the NFC North. A 37-30 road loss to the Seattle Seahawks Monday night kept them from catching the Packers.

"I think this was an opportunity we missed," Cousins told reporters after the game. "It's disappointing. After a game like tonight, I'd like to get out there tomorrow and play the next one."

Quarterbacks make a difference in the playoff race, and Cousins has been a difference maker this year.

He did not deliver the way the Vikings hoped he would last season when they signed him as a free agent after five seasons with the Redskins.

Cousins threw a career-high 30 touchdown passes, but turnovers – an old problem – haunted him again. He had 10 interceptions and lost seven fumbles as the Vikings fell to an 8-7-1 record after wining the North the previous year with a 12-4 record.

With four games left he has 23 TD passes against four interceptions and only three lost fumbles.

View photos from Lions-Vikings matchups in Minnesota through the years.

"I always said I continue improving," Cousins said. "Even though I'm in year eight, I'm better than I was in year seven."

Cousins has performed steadily, regardless of circumstances and injuries.

Adam Thielen, the Vikings' top receiver in 2018 with 113 catches, has played briefly in only one game since Week 7, when he sustained a hamstring injury on a touchdown catch in the first 10 minutes of a 42-30 win over the Lions. Cousins threw four TD passes in that game.

"Each week he seems to continue to build on everything that he's been doing." Zimmer said in a conference-call interview. "He's taking good care of the football. He's making some great throws.

"I think the things that we're trying to do with him helped his game, and he's really bought in to everything we're trying to do."

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