EAGAN, Minn. - Apart from a single half at Chicago and a handful of other regular-season snaps, it was the Kirk Cousins show under center for the 2022 Vikings.
Cousins continued to showcase his durability in his fifth season with Minnesota, playing in every game for the sixth time in his career and third in a Vikings uniform.
There was some turnover, though, within the position behind Cousins. Minnesota acquired Nick Mullens from Las Vegas in a trade on Aug. 22 and released Kellen Mond and Sean Mannion during roster reductions.
The Vikings signed former Lion David Blough to their practice squad on Sept. 1 before he joined Arizona's 53-man roster in mid-December. Minnesota then signed Josh Rosen to its practice squad on Dec. 20 for the remainder of the season.
With Cousins leading the way, the Vikings recorded at least 13 regular-season victories for just the third time in franchise history and reached the postseason for the first time in three seasons. It was an abrupt playoff stay, though, as Minnesota fell to the New York Giants in the Wild Card game on Jan. 15.
"Didn't see the season ending the way it did, and it hurts. We didn't make enough plays to win. Every play matters so much, and there were many that we'd love to have back and didn't make," Cousins said after the loss. "Proud of the way everybody fought. Proud of the way our fans showed up, the energy they brought. It was a great atmosphere to play in; it was a playoff atmosphere. It's always difficult because we have such a great group, and you know when the season ends that this group doesn't stay the same moving forward. That's hard to accept, especially with how many great players are in there."
Cousins had an up-and-down start to the season, throwing for 277 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 1 victory against Green Bay, but followed with three interceptions the next week in a loss to Philadelphia.
He was consistent through the middle part of the season as the Vikings rolled to a seven-game win streak before Cousins heated up in November and December. Cousins averaged 298 yards in eight games in those two months, including consecutive 400-yard games.
Mullens replaced Cousins for just one snap in the Vikings win at Washington in Week 9 before filling in during the second half of Minnesota's losses to Dallas and Green Bay when the game was out of reach. He played the entire second half in the regular-season finale in Chicago.
Neither Blough nor Rosen appeared in a game for Minnesota.
Notable Number: 8
Despite outscoring their opponents 172-98 in fourth quarters this season, the Vikings trailed at some point in the final period in 13 of their 18 games.
Cousins helped lead Minnesota to eight fourth-quarter comebacks, which tied Matthew Stafford for the most in a single season in NFL history.
The Minnesota quarterback has 22 fourth-quarter comebacks in his career, which is the eighth-most in NFL history.
Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson is known for his popular rendition of the Griddy dance to celebrate his touchdowns. But Cousins grabbed national attention this season with a stylistic way to celebrate Minnesota's victories on the road.
After the Vikings edged New Orleans in Week 4 in London on a double-doink missed field goal by the Saints, Cousins was seen on social media wearing his teammate Christian Darrisaw's diamond-encrusted spinning chain.
A couple of weeks later - after the Vikings dispatched the Dolphins in Miami - Cousins wore a white T-shirt tucked into black pants, black sunglasses and more of his teammates' chains, including ones from Jefferson and outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith.
Minnesota's next road trip took the team to Washington, where Cousins played his first six seasons. The Vikings won on a late field goal by Greg Joseph, and Cousins celebrated the victory against his former team by wearing glasses, no shirt and even more chains.
Just like that, "Kirko Chainz" was born.
Cousins' post-game celebrations became such a phenomenon that fans started wearing chains to Vikings games. One young fan in particular - eight-year-old Lincoln Gustafson - was shown on the videoboard at U.S. Bank Stadium wearing a near copy of Cousins' look in the win over Washington during the Vikings Thanksgiving game against the Patriots.
Although the Vikings season ended in postseason heartbreak, it was still fun to dance along with "Kirko" during a wild regular season. It offered a glimpse at the connections built between teammates in 2022.
Completed 424 of 643 passes (65.9 percent) for 4,547 yards, 29 touchdowns and 14 interceptions with a passer rating of 92.5; started 17 games and played 1,114 offensive snaps (95.4 percent)
Completed 21 of 25 passes (84.0 percent) for 224 yards, one touchdown and one interception with a passer rating of 100.7; played 54 offensive snaps (4.6 percent) across four games
The highest high
1. Cousins compiled several consistent games in 2022, but his best performance came when his team needed him the most.
Minnesota faced a 33-point halftime deficit against Indianapolis in Week 15 that was helped by a blocked punt and an interception returned for touchdowns.
Gradually, Cousins steered the Vikings back in the second half, completing 21 of his 33 pass attempts for 330 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. He finished the game 34-of-54 passing (setting a season-high for completions he tied the following week) for a career-high 460 yards.
The Vikings defeated the Colts in overtime 39-36 on a 40-yard field goal by Joseph. The comeback was the largest in NFL history and secured the NFC North title for the Vikings.
The lowest low
1. Aside from his three-interception game at Philadelphia on Monday Night Football, Cousins was able to keep the Vikings in games to start the season.
After building a seven-game win streak - all by a one-score margin - Cousins and Minnesota looked to push it to eight in a home matchup against Dallas.
Instead, the Cowboys relied on their pass rush to sack Cousins seven times (a career-high for the quarterback that was tied by the Colts). Cousins was held to season lows in completions (12) and passing yards (105) and the Vikings recorded only a field goal in the 40-3 loss.
2 pressing questions for 2023
1. Will Cousins be extended again this offseason?
Last offseason, the Vikings front office had a crucial decision to make regarding Cousins' contract.
Minnesota elected to sign the quarterback to a one-year extension, keeping Cousins under contract through the 2023 season.
Now, the Vikings are right back in a similar situation. A decision needs to made soon on whether to restructure and/or extend him again, possibly trade him or re-evaluate things next year.
General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was asked about Cousins' future during Wednesday's end-of-season press conference.
"It's our expectation that he'll be our quarterback, but I can't say exactly how that would look," Adofo-Mensah said. "We have everything at our disposal, and we'll consider those things just like we will with everyone else on the roster."
Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said he was thrilled with Cousins' ability to adapt to a new offensive scheme quickly and have success.
"When I envisioned this offense and his fit within the offense and then watching him really flourish throughout the year and come to life in big moments," O'Connell said, "his toughness, his durability, his ability to go out there each and every week and try to put our offense in optimal situations through his play and his leadership, his ownership of the offense. I thought his growth from the beginning to the end and just our personal dialogue week in and week out with the game plan [was incredible]."
2. Do the Vikings keep their current options behind Cousins or look elsewhere?
Mullens was the only other quarterback for Minnesota to see playing time this season, but proved to be a capable backup when he was on the field.
He went 5-for-7 in the final minutes of Minnesota's loss to Dallas and was perfect on four throws on the road against Green Bay, including a 9-yard touchdown to K.J. Osborn. Against the Bears, Mullens utilized his arm and his legs to keep the Vikings in front of Chicago during the second half.
This isn't the first time the 27-year-old Mullens has shown promise. He threw for 4,714 yards and 25 touchdowns in 19 games for San Francisco from 2018-2020 before going 20-for-30 with 147 yards and a score in one game with Cleveland in 2021.
Rosen, meanwhile, had a solid start to his career. He threw for 2,278 yards and 11 touchdowns in 14 games for Arizona in 2018, but has bounced around the league since, playing on six different teams in the past four seasons.
The contracts for Mullens and Rosen are set to expire.