Shown on the Jumbotron after his 54-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, Stefon Diggs started shadow-boxing. Then the receiver let out a scream, coaxing the record-setting crowd to match his volume.
What a difference a half makes.
Just 90 minutes earlier, Diggs had a different kind of emotion spilling over as he stalked the sideline, venting to anyone within earshot as the crowd repeatedly booed the Vikings’ offensive decisions.
“As far as being a leader on this team and fighting as much as I can, it’s easy to get frustrated and try to push guys,” Diggs said after Minnesota’s rousing 27-23 comeback win, his voice a bit hoarse. “I like when adversity hits and you see what kind of guys you’ve got.”
Meanwhile, quarterback Kirk Cousins remained stoic as the Vikings spotted the Broncos a 20-0 halftime lead, stayed poised throughout a pristine second-half performance and scarcely flinched on the sideline as Minnesota’s defense came up with a stop on the final play of regulation.
“You’ve got to be a pro and just kind of stay right here,” Cousins said after the game, demonstrating a level hand, “and that includes when things are going really well. When we have a three-touchdown lead against Atlanta, you’ve got to stay right here. Then the same is true when you’re down, and that’s what gives you the opportunity to withstand a three-touchdown lead and then also to come back from a three-touchdown deficit.”
On this day, one that saw the Vikings overcome their largest halftime deficit since 1985, Diggs’ outbursts and Cousins’ business-like approach seemed to balance each other out.
Diggs’ first-half frustration brought back shades of his Week 4 antics that generated trade speculation and resulted in a six-figure fine for the wide receiver. Repeatedly on incompletions Sunday, Diggs waved his arms demonstratively coming back to the huddle. On the sideline, he spoke passionately to injured co-star Adam Thielen, injured safety Anthony Harris and even trainer Eric Sugarman. All that was missing was Cousins mimicking routes with his arms like in last year’s Week 17 defeat versus Chicago.
“I saw him on the sideline, yeah,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “He does that a lot. He just wants to win. He wants to compete. I don’t think it fueled anything.”
A common thread with Diggs’ discontent has been his lack of opportunities in the passing game, and Diggs didn’t receive a single target in a first half where the Vikings had more penalty yards than passing yards, Cousins took three sacks and turned the ball over and Minnesota got no further than the Denver 47-yard line.
But Diggs spoke of an encouraging locker room message from the team’s leaders.
“Being down at halftime, it’s easy to get down on yourself,” Diggs said, “but I saw some guys in the locker room, i.e. Kirk, i.e. Riley [Reiff], Kyle [Rudolph], just guys uplifting the team, saying to them, ‘We can do it.’ I just remember we were down at Green Bay 21 points and we fought back at the end of that game, but this one we wanted a different outcome, and those guys were just echoing the fact that we could do it. It ain’t (expletive). We can fight and get back in the game and have a chance to win.”
As one of the leaders promoting calm in the locker room, Cousins practiced what he preached in the second half. The Vikings went 7 of 10 on third and fourth down, scoring touchdowns on all four of their possessions. Diggs was targeted five times for 121 yards and a touchdown that brought the Vikings within three early in the fourth quarter — his fifth 100-yard game in the last eight. Whatever negative emotion existed in the first half had evaporated.
As Diggs revved up the uproarious crowd with his best Manny Pacquiao impersonation, Cousins stayed stone-faced. The quarterback has been noticeably more reserved during his recent stretch of brilliant quarterbacking, rarely taking part in end zone celebrations, opting instead for a jog back to the sideline and maybe some high fives.
“Some people call it boring,” said Cousins. “I call it being smart, being the CEO, and just staying the course. So I think we all want to be that as best we can. It’s an emotional game. I think some positions can be more emotional than the quarterback.”
In the past two weeks, Cousins has won in primetime at Dallas and followed it up with a significant comeback, bolstering his case as the long-term Vikings quarterback of the future after facing harsh critiques throughout 2018 and in the early part of the current season. He said he doesn’t care about shattering narratives, that he’s treating each game as its own entity.
Diggs took it upon himself on Sunday to be Cousins’ advocate.
“He’s playing lights out, he’s doing a great job, and you guys need to give him more credit,” he told reporters. “You guys are hard on him when he isn’t playing well. He’s doing everything he can. Right now, he just helped us get back in the game to win the game.”
With a 21-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio with just five games remaining, Cousins seems to have found a formula that works. He’s won six out of seven games for the first time in his career while staying even-keeled.
Don’t expect the Dead Arm Dance anytime soon from Cousins. He’ll leave the celebrating to Diggs and Co.