It was a meaningful game on the road against a good opponent in prime time. That generally isn’t the most promising set of raised-stakes circumstances for a team quarterbacked by Kirk Cousins.

But maybe this is a different version of Cousins at work this season for the Minnesota Vikings. He threw two touchdown passes Sunday night and made no glaring gaffes as the Vikings just held on late to beat the Dallas Cowboys, 28-24, in a crisp and entertaining matchup of NFC playoff contenders in Arlington, Tex.

Can we get a “You like that?!” from Cousins?

Maybe not. Cousins took the significant win in stride, at least for the public consumption of the national television audience.

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“Well, first of all, the Vikings beat a winning team,” he told NBC after the game. “Football is a team game. And today I relied on my teammates. We ran the ball well. Our defense stepped up big at the end. I was just a part of this big win tonight. Time of possession, convert third downs, finding a way, protecting the football—and we got a great win on the road.”

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Indeed they did. The Vikings improved to 7-3. They’re a game behind the first-place Green Bay Packers in the NFC North and in the thick of a rugged NFC wild-card chase. Cousins is having a productive second season in Minnesota after the Vikings missed the playoffs last season on the heels of signing Cousins to a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract in free agency as part of his unceremonious departure from the Washington Redskins.

He threw a pair of one-yard touchdown passes to tight end Kyle Rudolph as the Vikings grabbed an early 14-0 lead Sunday night. Rudolph made a fantastic one-handed catch in the back of the end zone on the first of those. Cousins finished with 220 passing yards on 23-for-32 throwing accuracy. Perhaps most importantly, he didn’t throw an interception as the Vikings went turnover-free and beat the Cowboys even without injured wide receiver Adam Thielen.

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“With Adam out, I think we’ve had to reinvent ourselves a little bit,” Cousins said. “Kyle stepped up big-time tonight. He made an unbelievable catch. He’s got the best hands of anybody I’ve ever played with, and he showed it on that one-handed touchdown catch.”

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For the season, Cousins has 18 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. But for Cousins, it’s not about putting up eye-catching passing numbers. He did that, after all, with the Redskins. It’s about avoiding huge mistakes, not shrinking from the big moments and winning significant games. With Sunday night’s victory, Cousins upped his career record in prime-time games to 7-13. He’s now 2-7 on the road in prime-time games.

The Vikings, over two seasons with Cousins as their quarterback, are now 3-9-1 against winning teams, including 1-7-1 on the road.

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“We always talk about putting in the work, putting this thing together,” said Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, who had 97 rushing yards and 86 receiving yards against the Cowboys. “And I think tonight we clicked on all cylinders and we got this thing rolling.”

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But it wasn’t easy for the Vikings. The Cowboys used three touchdown passes by quarterback Dak Prescott to three wide receivers—Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb and Amari Cooper—to move in front, 21-20, in the third quarter. But the Vikings reclaimed the lead in the final seconds of the third quarter on a two-yard touchdown run by Cook on a fourth-down gamble by Coach Mike Zimmer. Cousins added a successful two-point conversion pass to Rudolph.

The Vikings just held on, yielding a fourth-quarter field goal but then stopping the Cowboys on a fourth-and-five play from the Minnesota 14-yard line in the game’s final minute. Linebacker Eric Kendricks broke up Prescott’s pass intended for running back Ezekiel Elliott with 40 seconds left. The Cowboys forced a Vikings punt and got the ball back at their 46-yard line with 17 seconds to play. But Prescott’s Hail Mary pass was intercepted in the end zone as time expired.

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The Cowboys, at 5-4, fell into a first-place tie with the idle Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East as Prescott’s 397 passing yards weren’t enough. Cooper had 11 catches for 147 yards. Cobb had six catches for 106 yards. But the Vikings limited Elliott to 47 rushing yards and made the big play on defense in crunch time.

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“It’s a tough task,” Cousins said. “I thought Dak played as well as any quarterback that I’ve seen this year, with the way he played tonight. Our defense did a great job at the end there, getting stops and making the final play. It always comes down to the last two minutes and we did a great job.”

In-game updates

4th Quarter

Cowboys get closer: Dallas couldn’t get into the end zone and had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by kicker Brett Maher to draw closer in the fourth quarter. (Vikings 28, Cowboys 24 with 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter)

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3rd Quarter

Cook scores fourth-down TD: This has become a back-and-forth game, and the Vikings retook the lead on a two-yard touchdown run by tailback Dalvin Cook on fourth and goal. Rookie running back Alexander Mattison appeared to score earlier on a 17-yard touchdown dash. But he was ruled down by contact inside the 1-yard line on a replay review. The Vikings were pushed back by a false-start penalty, and couldn’t get into the end zone until Cook scored with a pitchout to the right on Coach Mike Zimmer’s fourth-down gamble. Kirk Cousins threw a two-point conversion pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph. (Vikings 28, Cowboys 21 with 2 seconds left in the 3rd quarter)

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Cowboys take first lead: The Cowboys are ahead for the first time, thanks to a 12-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to wide receiver Amari Cooper. It was Prescott’s third touchdown pass of the night to a third different wideout. His first-half strikes went to Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb. Cooper made an excellent catch along the sideline, just managing to keep his feet in bounds. It was Cooper’s second sideline toe-tapping catch on the drive, following a 13-yard grab earlier. (Cowboys 21, Vikings 20 with 7:01 left in the 3rd quarter)

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Vikes add field goal: The Vikings got a field goal by Dan Bailey as time expired in the first half, and they got another field goal by Bailey to cap their opening drive of the second half. Minnesota held the ball for 12 plays but the drive stalled at the Dallas 9-yard line when Kirk Cousins threw a third-down incompletion to Stefon Diggs at the goal line. Dalvin Cook had a 23-yard run earlier on the drive, and Cousins connected with Diggs for 11 yards to the Dallas 10 on a third-and-10 play. (Vikings 20, Cowboys 14 with 9:38 left in the 3rd quarter)

Halftime

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Halftime in Arlington, Tex.: The Vikings got a field goal by kicker Dan Bailey as time expired in the first half to reclaim the lead over the Cowboys. It was a good first half between two NFC playoff contenders. The Vikings raced to an early 14-point lead on a pair of one-yard touchdown passes from Kirk Cousins to tight end Kyle Rudolph, who made a fantastic one-handed catch in the back of the end zone on the first of those.

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The Cowboys drew even with second-quarter touchdown passes by Dak Prescott to wide receivers Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb. The Vikings’ drive to Bailey’s 26-yard kick to close the half included a fine catch by wideout Stefon Diggs, who adjusted to an underthrown pass. The on-field officials originally ruled that the ball had hit the turf and Diggs hadn’t made a legal catch, but that was correctly overturned on instant replay. The Cowboys had a defensive touchdown earlier in the half negated, also correctly, by a replay review that showed it was an incomplete pass by Cousins rather than a fumble.

Cousins, trying to show that he can win a big game against a good team in prime time, threw for 170 yards on 16-for-21 first-half passing. Prescott connected on 12 of 21 throws for 189 yards. Neither standout tailback was much of a factor in the running game. The Vikings’ Dalvin Cook had only 27 rushing yards but did have five catches for 79 yards. The Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott had 37 rushing yards. Gallup and fellow wide receiver Amari Cooper each had more than 60 receiving yards for Dallas. (Vikings 17, Cowboys 14 at halftime)

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2nd Quarter

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Cowboys draw even: The Cowboys are rolling now, scoring two touchdowns to draw even with the Vikings. Dak Prescott threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Randall Cobb, taking advantage of a free opportunity to take a shot at the end zone with the Minnesota defense having jumped offside. Cobb made an excellent tumbling catch, just managing to grab the ball with his fingertips. Earlier on the drive, Prescott connected with tight end Blake Jarwin for 26 yards on third and three. (Vikings 14, Cowboys 14 with 1:54 left in the 2nd quarter)

Defensive TD for Dallas overturned: The Cowboys had a touchdown by their defense overturned on instant replay review. Safety Darian Thompson picked up the loose football and raced for a touchdown after Demarcus Lawrence hit Kirk Cousins’s arm on a pass attempt. The on-field officials allowed the play to proceed. But the on-field call of a fumble was reversed to an incomplete pass on review, as Cousins’s arm clearly was moving forward with the ball in his hand. (Vikings 14, Cowboys 7 with 6:45 left in the 2nd quarter)

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Cowboys get on board: It took four possessions to make it happen, but the Cowboys finally got the NFL’s top-ranked offense in gear. Dak Prescott connected with wide receiver Michael Gallup for a 23-yard touchdown pass. Prescott got the ball out of his hand quickly and found Gallup, who was left alone by the Minnesota secondary and turned the short pass into a touchdown. Earlier on the drive, Prescott teamed with wideout Amari Cooper for a 20-yard completion on third and 12 from midfield. The Cowboys had managed only a missed field goal and two punts on their first three possessions of the night. (Vikings 14, Cowboys 7 with 8:08 left in the 2nd quarter)

1st Quarter

Vikings increase lead: Kirk Cousins is off to a good start as he tries to change the narrative about his inability so far in his career to get the job done in prime-time games. He has thrown his second one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph. Minnesota has two touchdowns in two possessions. The Cowboys, with the NFL’s top-ranked offense, need to get moving. They have no points in two possessions, with a missed field goal and a punt. (Vikings 14, Cowboys 0 with 32 seconds left in the 1st quarter)

Vikes grab early lead: Minnesota took advantage of good field position for its opening drive, thanks to the missed long-range field goal by the Cowboys, and grabbed the early lead. Tight end Kyle Rudolph made a terrific one-handed catch in the back of the end zone to turn a high pass by Kirk Cousins into a one-yard touchdown. The Vikings needed only five plays to move 53 yards. Cousins is off to a three-for-three start to the game. (Vikings 7, Cowboys 0 with 9:25 left in the 1st quarter)

Long-range miss for Maher: Cowboys kicker Brett Maher has three career field goals of 60 yards or longer. But he could not connect from 57 yards on the opening drive of this game, sending the kick wide left. Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota offense get their first possession starting from their 47-yard line. (Vikings 0, Cowboys 0 with 12:03 left in the 1st quarter)

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