EAGAN, Minn. — The 2021 Vikings season involved three different quarterbacks seeing game action (and attempting at least one pass) in 2021, something that hadn't happened since 2017.
Kirk Cousins, who has been the epitome of durable since signing with the Vikings in 2018, was once against Minnesota's starter.
And while he played nearly every snap, Sean Mannion and Kellen Mond also lined up under center, too.
Overall, the Vikings received solid if not unspectacular quarterback play during a roller-coaster season that ended with Minnesota missing the playoffs and letting go of its general manager and head coach.
"The word that comes to mind [for 2021] is 'close.' We were really close, and I think that's encouraging as I look forward for next season and building what we have," Cousins said. "But 'close' also signifies that we came up short, so there's also a bittersweet nature to that, and that's where you have that edge moving forward, that there's a lot more work left to do."
Cousins started strong, throwing for 918 yards and eight scores in the first three games of the season. He was consistently solid through the middle of the season but did hit some rough patches down the stretch as the Vikings tried to claw their way into a playoff berth.
Cousins threw just two interceptions in the first 10 games of 2021, but threw five picks in his final six games. The 2022 season is the final year of his current deal.
Mannion, who was added to the roster just before the season started, made his first NFL start since 2019 in Week 17 after Cousins landed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. He provided a valiant effort but couldn't lead Minnesota to a win at Lambeau Field in tough circumstances.
The 29-year-old is scheduled to be a free agent this offseason.
Mond was a third-round pick in 2021. He struggled at times during the offseason and training camp where he took fourth-string reps, but showed flashes during preseason play.
He was inactive for the majority of the season but eventually made his NFL debut in Week 17 when Mannion had to miss one series due to hand cramps.
Notable Number: 4
Cousins produced a passer rating of 103.1 in 2021, which tied with Russell Wilson for the fourth-best mark in the league among all qualified quarterbacks.
The 2021 season also marked the fourth straight time that Cousins finished in the top 10 in passer rating at the end of the season.
2021: 103.1 (T-4th)
2020: 105.0 (8th)
2019: 107.4 (4th)
2018: 99.7 (10th)
Cousins produced plenty of solid performances in 2021, with some of them coming in losses during a season in which the Vikings play a whopping 14 games that were decided by eight or fewer points.
But if we look back at the signature moment of 2021, the season will be remembered for the game that Cousins didn't play in.
He was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list two days before a Border Battle on Sunday Night Football against the Packers in Week 17, leading Minnesota to start Mannion, who came off the Reserve/COVID-19 list that same day.
Without their starting quarterback and one of eight captains, the Vikings struggled offensively and posted just 10 points, which wasn't nearly enough to keep pace with a high-powered Packers attack.
Minnesota lost 37-10, dropping their record to 7-9 and eliminating the Vikings from playoff contention.
Completed 372 of 561 passes (66.3 percent) for 4,221 yards with 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions with a passer rating of 103.1. Started 16 games and played 1,087 offensive snaps (95.3 percent).
Completed 22 of 36 passes (61.1 percent) for 189 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions with a passer rating of 84.1. Started one game and played 51 offensive snaps (4.5 percent).
Completed two of three passes (66.7 percent) for five yards with a passer rating of 70.1. Played three offensive snaps (0.26 percent).
The highest high
1. Cousins was at his best in a November game against the Packers.
Minnesota stood at 4-5 entering a Week 11 home game against Green Bay and needed a win to stay alive in the playoff race. Cousins delivered, throwing for 341 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. His passer rating of 128.4 tied his best mark of the season.
His performance was about more than stats, however, as he also put together a late-game drive to ensure the win.
With the game tied at 31, Cousins helped march Minnesota 64 yards in eight plays for a chip-shot field goal on the game's final play. The drive took the final 2:08 of the game.
The lowest low
1. Cousins' first two seasons in Minnesota were paired with Kevin Stefanski, who was his position coach (and interim offensive coordinator for three games) in 2018 and offensive coordinator in 2019.
Stefanski was on the other sideline in Week 4 as Cleveland's head coach, but Cousins couldn't impress his former coach as he turned in one of his worst performances of the season.
The Vikings scored a season-low seven points, and that touchdown came on the first drive of the game. Minnesota was kept off the scoreboard for the remaining 11 times it had the ball.
Cousins, normally one of the league's most accurate passers, completed just 20 of 38 attempts (52.6 percent). He threw for 203 yards, and his yards-per-attempt average was just 5.34, which was his third-lowest tally of the season.
He was also sacked twice and threw an interception.
On a day where the Vikings up-and-down defense might have played its best game of the season, Cousins and the offense couldn't come through.
2 pressing questions for 2022
1.What will the new-look front office think of Cousins?
The two main decision makers who brought Cousins to Minnesota are no longer with the team, as Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer were let go a week ago.
And with Cousins entering the final season of his current contract — and carrying a $45 million salary cap hit along with it — a decision soon will need to be made on his future.
Minnesota could choose to restructure and extend Cousins, which occurred after the 2019 season. The Vikings could also look to potentially trade him and look at other options. Or they could let him simply play out the final year of his deal and evaluate things a year from now.
Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf was asked about the quarterback spot in last week's press conference.
"We're going to get a head coach and GM in place and work with them and evaluate those kinds of decisions," Wilf said. "Where our roster fits, what we have, what we don't have, what we need. It's not a simple answer on all of this.
"I don't want to be a, to use a phrase, a Monday Morning Quarterback on the situation because we have to look forward," Wilf added. "We're going to have to bring in the right people to answer that question."
2.What progression does Mond show in 2022?
It was a bit of a rocky rookie season for Mond, who starred at Texas A&M before being tabbed with the 66th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
While fans were hyped at his selection, Mond went through the usual growing pains of a rookie quarterback.
He only took minimal reps during offseason practices before getting a little more work in during training camp. And while he was a bit erratic in preseason games, he looked the most comfortable in the preseason finale where he showed a mix of skills and athleticism.
But he then seemingly went off the grid, especially when the Vikings added Mannion to be the backup, as Mond took scout-team reps and was inactive for nearly the entire season.
And while he did make his NFL debut, it was a small sample size that left many wondering just where he was at after his rookie season.
The next chance to see Mond on the field will be the offseason program, which could begin as early as April 4 since the Vikings will have a new head coach.
If Cousins is back in Purple in 2022, he will undoubtedly be the starter. But Mond could cement himself as the solid backup if he shows enough progression in the spring and summer. Mannion's biggest contributions have been his support of Cousins in meetings and on game days, so he could also be brought back if the Vikings are interested in keeping three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster.