Kirk Cousins reached 400 yards passing for the sixth time in his nine-year career on Sunday.

In those six games, he has 18 touchdown passes, three interceptions and five passer ratings better than 103.

His record in those games: 1-3-2 after Sunday's 37-35 win over the Lions at Ford Field.

"It's nice to have positive statistics, but ultimately that's not what it's really about," said Cousins, who completed 28 of 40 passes for 405 yards, three touchdowns, no turnovers and a 127.6 passer rating against the Lions.

"You really want to win games, and that's where my focus is. Figuring out what are the little things we can do better to make sure those losses turn into wins."

Therein lies the career-long conundrum that is Kirk Cousins and his encouraging yet aggravating and perfectly mediocre record of 51-51-2.

He's great at good stats, like throwing 35 touchdown passes this season to rank second in team history. Or his 105.0 passer rating, second highest of his career behind last season. Or his fifth 4,000-yard season.

Cousins, however, has not been good at turning losses into wins at critical moments that scream for a quarterback of his ability and bank account to make it happen. The late-game failures in losses to Tennessee, Dallas and Chicago come to mind.

So, yes, the Vikings can reach a Super Bowl with Cousins. Just don't expect him to be the guy leading the charge if they do indeed break their 44-year-and-counting drought while he's here.

Cousins is an outstanding, strong-armed passer who can make all the throws as the third-most-accurate passer in league history behind Deshaun Watson and Drew Brees. But he needs a lot more help from the offensive line and a defense that doesn't completely fall apart the way this year's did.

"Kirk probably started out a little slow at the beginning of the season," coach Mike Zimmer said. "But I think at the end of the year he's had some big-time games, made some big-time throws, he's taken much better care of the football.

"He got away with one [that should have been intercepted] today, obviously, but I think he's had a good year. It's unfortunate that we couldn't do a little bit better and win a few more games so he could showcase himself even more."

Cousins struggled early on Sunday because his line wasn't holding up. The first possession fell apart as left guard Dakota Dozier got manhandled and two defenders batted down passes. The second possession was a three-and-out because right tackle Brian O'Neill got beat badly for a sack.

In the second quarter, center Garrett Bradbury got tossed aside on another sack. And the trend of stunts and blitzes befuddling the Vikings and producing free runners at Cousins continued.

One of those free runners led to one of the worst calls in any NFL game all season. Defensive back Tracy Walker's second sack of the game, right up the middle, was nullified by a phantom roughing-the-passer penalty on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with the Vikings leading 31-29 early in the fourth quarter. Cousins ended up scoring on a 1-yard sneak.

Cousins pointed to that play to explain why it's difficult to say how close the Vikings are to reaching a Super Bowl.

"I said to [Walker] right away, 'I don't necessarily agree with that call, but I'll take it,'" Cousins said. "But you realize the difference between a win and a loss could be that call. It could be an injury, a bounce of the ball, a break that you get."

Cousins will be only 32 next season. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said last week that Cousins has "some great football ahead of him."

"We [came up short of the playoffs], but nobody's disappointed in effort and preparation from Kirk," Kubiak said. "I think it'll be fun to watch and see what Kirk totally becomes as a player because I really think he's just getting started."

Could be. But for now he's still stuck squarely on the fence at 51-51-2.

• The Star Tribune reporter did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews after the game.