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Vikings Secure 13th Win as Jefferson Reaches Rare Air

CHICAGO — Thirteen wins in one season has now occurred three times in Vikings history.

Minnesota wrapped the baker's dozen with a 29-13 win in Chicago Sunday.

The 16-point victory concluded the 2022 regular season with a balanced offensive performance, picks by Patrick Peterson and Duke Shelley and without much drama.

It equaled Minnesota's previous high margin of victory, a 23-7 win against Green Bay back in Week 1.

In between, Minnesota (13-4) racked up an NFL-record 11 one-score wins and sprinkled in four double-digit losses. They did not lose consecutive contests in Head Coach Kevin O'Connell's first season.

"Great to get 13 wins. I think it's only the third time it's happened in Vikings regular-season history, so it's no small thing, but you understand now as we put the regular season behind us that it's really a one-game season now," Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said.

Instead of needing to execute a ninth fourth-quarter comeback this season (and break a tie with Matthew Stafford for the NFL record), Cousins was able to watch the entire second half from Minnesota's sideline.

Cousins completed 17 of 20 passes for 225 yards and threw a 66-yard completion to K.J. Osborn and a 4-yard touchdown to Adam Thielen on his second and third throws of the game before the Vikings brought in Nick Mullens and multiple reserves on offense and defense.

"I think 13 wins is an outstanding year. When you look at the regular season, that's hard to do. It doesn't just happen, so I'm proud of the way we fought to get those wins that were hard-earned, and then the playoffs, you kind of throw the records out at that point," Cousins said. "We've got a home game, and you've just got to go play and earn one play at a time. There's an intensity in the playoffs that you're aware of, and you've got to be ready to go."

It is Minnesota's first postseason appearance since January 2020 when the Vikings upset the Saints in New Orleans but fell at San Francisco. The 49ers advanced to Super Bowl LIV before losing to the Chiefs.

View game action photos from the Vikings Week 18 game vs. the Bears at Soldier Field.

Cousins, O'Connell and others appreciate the opportunity to play at least one home playoff game. Same for the likes of Adam Thielen, plus teammates like Osborn and Justin Jefferson who will suit up for their first career playoff game.

O'Connell was the offensive coordinator for the Rams team that went 12-5 last season before edging foes in four playoff games to win Super Bowl LVI.

"Our 13th win, that's something I don't take for granted at all," O'Connell said. "I'm proud of our team, and now hopefully we can have our best week of preparation and put together our best performance of the season next weekend at U.S. Bank Stadium."

Thielen has helped the Vikings make three previous postseasons after the 2015, 2017 and 2019 seasons and will be among the team leaders to help guide first-timers.

"There's a lot of players, a lot of staff, that have playoff experience. I think you have to lean on that experience," Thielen said. "You have to lean on, you know, some guys maybe speaking up a little bit this week, coaches just talking about what it's like to play playoff football. I didn't even realize K.J. and J.J. haven't been in the playoffs. So just talking to them about five minutes ago about that. So just understanding that it's a different game in the playoffs, and which is exciting, right? That's what we play this game for.

"We're excited about that, excited to get back work, honestly, just to prepare for a tough game," Thielen added.

Jefferson finished the season atop the NFL with 128 receptions and 1,809 yards, becoming the first Minnesota player to lead the NFL in the same season. The receptions broke a team record set by Cris Carter, and the yardage topped Randy Moss (1,632 in 2003).

"Just coming off 1,600 last year, my main goal was 1,800," Jefferson said. "Of course I wanted to exceed that goal and get to 2,000, but it's just another opportunity for next year, something to strive for. As long as we're in these playoffs, as long as we keep fighting and having this extra game, [the record] doesn't really matter.

"I feel like I did a lot for this team this season doing whatever I needed to do when that ball was in the air and touching my hands," he added. "It's disappointing individually, but there's so much more to fight for this year than that record."

Jefferson went from 88 receptions for 1,400 yards as a rookie to 108 for 1,616 in 2021 before capping his third pro season with 128 for 1,809 and doing so in highly meaningful situations. The 1,809 yards rank as the sixth most by a receiver in one season all-time.

Thielen lauded his partner in catches.

"I'm extremely proud of him, happy for him. I've told you guys before, he's a great football player, but he's a great teammate and a great friend and someone that you cheer for," Thielen said. "You want guys that do things the right way. They come into work, they bust their tail, they have a positive attitude every single day. You want guys like that have success, and for him to have that type of success in such a short amount of time is extremely impressive, and I'm thankful he's in that [receivers] room with me."

Cousins said Jefferson's availability for all 17 games is "not something I take for granted." Nor are the numerous ways the third-year pro can benefit the team.

"The different number of ways he's making plays, some of them are go balls, some of them are a screen, some of them are third downs in traffic, so the versatility that he affords us as a receiver, where it's not just a certain trick that he does, but it's really the entirety of what you ask a receiver to do," Cousins said. "The fact that he is only in Year 3, so challenging him as I've challenged him after his rookie year and second year, it's very difficult to run it back again and again, but that will always be my message to him, to just run it back and do it again is very challenging in my 11 years. If you can, you start to put yourself in rare air, and so far three years in, he's run it back and run it back."