Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota offense literally stumbled out of the gate, but the veteran quarterback bounced back with more than 400 yards passing to lead the Vikings over the Detroit Lions 37-35 in the season finale on Sunday, Jan. 3.
With star running back Dalvin Cook (family emergency) and left tackle Riley Reiff (COVID-19) out, Cousins tripped over the feet of his offensive linemen on the first two snaps he took. But he recovered to throw touchdown passes to receiver Chad Beebe and backup running backs Alexander Mattison and Ameer Abdullah — all in the first half.
Cousins also added a rushing touchdown in the second half, and finished the season with another strong outing.
"It's nice to have positive statistics, but ultimately that's not what it's really about," Cousins said. "You do the best you can, and whether it's today's game or evaluating the season, I still find my mind goes to the plays (I) didn't make. There were plays out there today I didn't make, throws I missed, that I'm beating myself up over."
Mattison, Abdullah and fullback C.J. Ham combined for eight catches for 101 yards out of the backfield. Zimmer said he was pleased with his backs' ability to step up in Cook's absence, and for the steadying performance Cousins provided.
"It's unfortunate we couldn't do better, win a few more games, so (Cousins) could showcase himself even more," Zimmer said.
Cousins was able to help rookie Justin Jefferson break Randy Moss's team record for receiving yards as a rookie. The first-time pro bowler had 133 yards receiving on nine catches.
"It's an honor to break Randy Moss's record. (With) him being a hall of famer, and being so dominating in this league, it's truly a blessing," Jefferson said. "It's truly crazy to be in this position."
Following a Mattison rushing touchdown early in the third quarter, Harrison Smith recorded his team-leading fifth interception of the season. The Vikings turned the turnover into a field goal and a 31-23 lead. Detroit threatened to draw even, but Minnesota held the lead for the rest of the game.
The Vikings (7-9) finished the trying season in third place in the four-team NFC North, but Zimmer pointed to the extraordinary circumstances that led to Minnesota finishing tied for its worst record in the coach's seven seasons with the team.
"I'm proud of the way these guys went through the (COVID-19) protocols and everything that they had to do," he said. "All the different changes that were made and the way that they handled their business, the way that they practiced.
"We've got a lot of work to do — I've got a lot of work to do."
Adam Thielen finished his seventh season with 74 receptions in 15 games for 925 yards and a career high 14 touchdowns. Thielen finished the season third in the NFL in TD receptions behind Davante Adams (18) and Tyreek Hill (15).