The decision to award Kirk Cousins a game ball after his first NFL playoff win was about cementing his place as the Vikings quarterback, coach Mike Zimmer said Monday.

“It was about him solidifying himself,” Zimmer said, “with all the bad rhetoric that he gets all the time about this or that. I just felt like it was time to tell a lot of people he’s our guy and he did it.”

Cousins mostly played a clean and efficient game in Sunday’s 26-20 wild-card playoff victory in New Orleans, according to Zimmer, capped with the walk-off touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph in overtime after recognizing man-to-man coverage. Cousins finished 19 of 31 passing for 242 yards and two sacks — one he was told to take by coaches in the fourth quarter so the clock kept running in lieu of a completion.

Cousins’ career-best 107.4 passer rating during the regular season came when the Vikings front office needs to consider his long-term future since his deal is up after 2020.

After beating the Saints, Cousins said he’s moving on to the “next mountain.”

“Now you want to win another playoff game,” Cousins said, “now you want to get to the Super Bowl, and you want to win a world championship. You just keep chasing the next mountain. There will always be people who are going to criticize you.”

Rudolph also got a game ball.

Stefanski interviewing Thursday

Two days before the Vikings’ NFC Divisional playoff game in San Francisco, offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski will be interviewed in Minneapolis for the Carolina Panthers’ head coaching job, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Stefanski might also interview this week with the Cleveland Browns; he was a finalist for that job last year when the now-fired Freddie Kitchens was hired.

Stefanski stepped on the gas in overtime Sunday, including calling Cousins’ 43-yard pass to receiver Adam Thielen on first down, to help lift the Vikings in New Orleans.

“We thought we had a chance on some of those shot plays,” Zimmer said, “but we didn’t get them off earlier in the ballgame. We continued to look for them. They’re just part of the offense.”

A ‘special’ bunch

Ten of the Vikings’ 11 starting defenders against the Saints have played together at least four seasons; the other, linebacker Eric Wilson, is in his third Vikings season. Linebacker Anthony Barr referenced the locker room’s brotherhood when spurning the Jets’ more lucrative offer in free agency to stay in Minnesota, and Sunday’s playoff win brought them even close together.

“It makes it that much more special,” Barr said. “To do this with the guys that you love, the guys that you go to work with every day and guys you’ve been with five to six years — to do it with this bunch is special. Hopefully we can keep this thing going.”

‘Biggest series of the game’

Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ first snap came at the Vikings’ 37-yard line, courtesy of Thielen’s fumble. But the Saints traveled just 26 yards in seven plays before settling for a field goal. That sequence left the Vikings trailing only 3-0.

“We were backed up off the turnover and we held them,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “We held them and got a sack from some pressure on that very first drive. I thought that was the biggest series of the game.”

Why wait?

The Vikings were the only coin-toss winner during the NFL’s wild-card playoff weekend to not defer the choice and take possession, allowing the Saints to choose possession after halftime. Teams typically defer the choice to the second half, but Zimmer didn’t.

“Felt like let’s take the ball and let’s go score,” he said.