He was supposed to be the missing piece, the $84 million answer to a championship drought. The Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a historic contract in free agency with a crystal-clear vision in mind: Build on the Minneapolis Miracle.

Instead, Cousins played a starring role in the Minneapolis Whimper.

No playoffs, no championship, nothing but frustration after watching the offense thoroughly manhandled by a ferocious Chicago Bears defense in a pack-your-bags, 24-10 loss Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Knowing a victory would put them in the postseason, the Vikings offense offered a feeble performance that exposed many of the same issues that sabotaged the second half of their underachieving season.

That started with their quarterback.

Cousins flopped at the worst possible moment. He wasn't alone in futility, but he stands out by virtue of his position and his stature as the $84 million quarterback.

Tom Baker for Star Tribune
Video (07:51) Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins says he's obviously upset with the loss to Chicago that ended their season, but he points out that it's only his first season with Minnesota and he's excited to build on what they have and make improvements going forward.

Cousins passed for only 132 yards and one touchdown while posting a 79.4 rating. His longest completion was 18 yards.

"If you play in this league long enough, you're going to get kicked in the teeth," Cousins said. "I have a lot of intestinal fortitude to keep moving forward."

It would have been nice to see some of that gumption as their season hung by a thread. His tenure in Minnesota will always be judged on postseason results, not regular-season statistics. And when he fails to even reach the playoffs and the offense looks so discombobulated in the process, nobody wants to hear sweet melodies about the future.

The rap on Cousins has been his inability to rise to the moment in big games. This was his chance to squash those concerns. The chorus only grows louder now.

Cousins looked skittish against the Bears' fierce pass rush. He threw aimlessly on deep balls. And he just hasn't shown the ability to elevate players around him on a consistent basis or compensate for an offensive line that remains the offense's biggest problem.

General Manager Rick Spielman showed professional negligence in constructing that overmatched position. If the organization uses its first draft pick on any position other than offensive line this spring, Spielman should be forced to sit the rest of the draft in silence.

"This is only Year 1," Cousins said.

This wasn't a rebuilding job, though. Maybe the Super Bowl-or-bust rhetoric conveniently ignored their offensive line issues, but missing the playoffs completely should cause some serious soul-searching.

The defining moment for the offense came at the end of the first half. The Vikings faced third-and-6 from the Bears 27. They trailed 13-0.

Cousins threw a pass to the outside that landed nowhere near his intended target, Adam Thielen. The TV broadcast caught Cousins and Thielen engaged in a heated conversation as they reached the sideline. To paraphrase, Cousins appeared to say, "Hey, I don't have all day," and then he demonstrated how the route should be run.

Thielen fired back, clearly disgusted.

Both players downplayed their exchange after the game. Heck, to hear them explain things, it sounded like they had a lovely fireside chat over a warm cup of tea.

"No. 1, it wasn't between Kirk and I," Thielen said. "Actually, it turned out to be a good conversation."


"Adam is my guy, he's the best," Cousins said. "I want to have more of those conversations. I actually liked the passion back and forth. I want to do more of that and let us both be who we are and have those discussions."

Sure, why not? More confusion and sideline tantrums. That should solve the problem.

The offense completely lost its way after a promising start to the season. Cousins became inconsistent and clearly was affected by his line's inability to protect him. A change in coordinators resulted in a brief spark, but fundamental problems remain, as well as lingering questions about what should be the offense's identity.

Run-first? Pass-first? Nobody seems to know.

At the moment of truth, needing a touchdown to create something positive in a must-win game, Cousins uncorked a wild pass and then had a heated conversation with his best receiver.

A fitting end to a season that was wholly unfulfilling.