EAGAN, Minn. — Kirk Cousins’ first season in Purple was a mixed bag, as the quarterback put up eye-popping numbers but did so in a season in which the Vikings did not qualify for the playoffs.
Cousins, who signed with Minnesota as a free agent in March, completed 425 of 606 passes (70.1 percent) for 4,298 yards with 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
The 425 completions are a franchise record for a single season, and the 606 attempts tied Hall of Famer Warren Moon (1995) for the most in one season. His completion percentage was the second-highest by a Vikings quarterback, and the yardage total is the second-most all-time behind only Daunte Culpepper’s 4,717 in 2004.
The 30-year-old became the first player in NFL history to throw for 4,000-plus yards, complete more than 70 percent of his passes and throw at least 30 touchdowns with 10 or fewer interceptions.
Cousins said after Sunday’s Week 17 loss that he is already looking forward to building on this season in 2019.
“I'm excited about the years ahead to build rapport with these guys, because this was year one,” Cousins said. “And I remember when I played in Washington, and we went to the playoffs, and at the end, the message was, ‘Hey, this is only your first year starting. Think how much better you are going to get going forward.’
“I feel the same with my time here with the Vikings. This is only year one,” Cousins added. “There are times in a season where I say, ‘Boy, you give me another OTAs, another minicamp, another training camp that builds up a library of reps with these guys, and get audibles and code words and go a little deeper with each guy and what their skill set is and what they do well,’ … you could add layers to this offense, and I'm excited about that.”
There were plenty of bright spots from Cousins and his collection of playmakers in 2018, most notably from wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, as the duo combined for 215 receptions, 2,394 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Thielen had 113 catches for 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns, and Diggs had 102 catches for 1,021 yards with nine scores as well.
They became the first pair of Vikings teammates to hit the century mark in catches in the same season in franchise history, and are the first Vikings wide receivers to each have 1,000 receiving yards in the same season since Hall of Famers Randy Moss and Cris Carter in 2000.
Cousins’ top two targets in 2018 agreed with their quarterback’s notion that the continuity and cohesiveness of the group will only get better during offseason workouts such as Organized Team Activities, a June minicamp and training camp.
“I don’t think people understand how much goes into getting on the same page with a quarterback as far as … what they like, what the receivers like … in a system, how they like things done,” Thielen said. “I think it only helps to have more time with them trying to figure out what we can do better that makes his job easier and vice versa.
“And then things that we like and things that might be our strengths that we can do to help this offense be better and move the ball more efficiently,” Thielen added. “It definitely doesn’t hurt to have another year under our belt with the same guy, and I think we’re going to be able to take advantage of those opportunities this offseason, whether it is before OTAs, in OTAs, training camp and things like that.”
Added Diggs: “It takes time. People forget he’s only been here for, like, seven or eight months. He is still a new quarterback but it grew. We learned as we go. You could see we had flashes of a lot of good things happening. But as far as being consistent, that’s the next step … all being on the same page at the same time.”
Cousins said after Sunday’s game that his excitement for the future didn’t mask the frustrations of a 2018 season in which the Vikings failed to make the postseason, especially after Minnesota faced a win-and-in situation at home.
“Well, it is a disappointment. I don't think it’s up for interpretation. It wasn’t what we wanted, what our fan base wanted,” Cousins said. “It’s OK to be disappointed. I think, if anything, it will sharpen us and give us an edge as we prepare for next year. And I think that's a good thing.”
And while there was plenty of disappointment in the Vikings locker room, tight end Kyle Rudolph said it was a bit much to pin all of the frustrations on the top offseason acquisition.
“It’s not fair to put this on Kirk. There are 10 other guys out there on offense that have to do their job on every single play,” Rudolph said. “Kirk had the best year that a Vikings quarterback has had since Brett Favre, and I believe he’s in the Hall of Fame, so that’s not bad company.
“Kirk played unbelievably all year for us, he gave us a chance to win, he’s a competitor, and it’s not fair for people to blame this on him and say he can’t win the big game,” Rudolph added. “I mentioned this earlier in the week that the other 10 guys on offense have to be there and make plays for us, and we have to get it done for him and we didn’t do that tonight.”
Yet as Cousins enters year two, the franchise’s quarterback said he will take the ups and downs of his initial season with the Vikings and look to propel the organization forward.
More time to jell with Thielen and Diggs, a chance to study film from 2018 and an added comfort level within Minnesota could all contribute to bigger and better things on the horizon for the Vikings in 2019 and beyond.
“Naturally, year three, you’re going to be more experienced and comfortable than year one,” Cousins said. “I’m not saying that’s an excuse for year one. We understood what we needed to do this year.
“It’s just a part of the deal,” Cousins added. “I’m always going to look at glass half-full and always look forward with optimism. That’s something I’ll be excited about going forward.”