By the end of a wild back-and-forth game between NFC North rivals, the Vikings receiver had helped his team claw back to .500 for a second time this season in a dramatic 34-31 win.
Jefferson exploded against the Packers with eight catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns, following up on a Week 10 performance against the Los Angeles Chargers in which he caught nine passes for 143 yards. He now has 11 career 100-yard games, tying Randy Moss and Juju Smith-Schuster for the second most in a player’s first two seasons since the 1970 merger.
“I was telling them I’m not leaving today without getting in the end zone,” Jefferson said. “So, glad I got in there twice. I’ve been telling them to just throw it up to any one of us. We’re confident enough to make the catch, make a big play for the team, and I feel like we made a lot of those today.”
Jefferson didn’t reach the end zone until the second half Sunday but was responsible for setting up two early touchdowns. On his third catch of the game, he took a 56-yard reception down to the goal line and Dalvin Cook punched in a 1-yard rushing touchdown on the next play to give the Vikings a 9-3 lead.
On Minnesota’s ensuing drive in the second quarter, Jefferson drew a 37-yard defensive pass interference penalty on a deep ball that moved the Vikings from their own 39-yard line to Green Bay’s 24-yard line. The Vikings caught another break three plays later when a Kirk Cousins interception was nullified by a roughing the passer penalty on a ball intended for Jefferson. Three plays after that, Adam Thielen found the end zone to put the Vikings up 16-3.
Jefferson’s first touchdown came in the third quarter with the receiver lined up in the backfield. He caught a 9-yard TD off an option route, a play Jefferson said he ran at LSU. This was his first career reception from out of the backfield in the NFL.
“Everybody knows he’s not in there for protection,” coach Mike Zimmer joked postgame.
Jefferson’s second score helped the Vikings wrestle the lead back from Green Bay when he caught a 23-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. After successfully converting a two-point attempt with Cook, Minnesota took a 31-24 lead only to find the game tied up moments later when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of Green Bay’s ensuing drive.
Including Sunday’s game — that came down to Greg Joseph booting a 29-yard field goal to give Minnesota the win — the Vikings have had five games where the game-winning score came on the final play. According to Elias, that ties the most through 10 games since the 1970 merger.
“That’s why we’re in a rivalry,” Cook said. “I’ve come to learn about this rivalry since I got here. It’s special. There’s a relationship. We want to win, knowing the type of atmosphere it is, it’s fun. Going back and forth, we wanted the ball in our hands.”
Green Bay’s defense learned a hard lesson Sunday: Playing soft coverage against Jefferson just won’t cut it.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Jefferson faced off coverage (where the defender lines up 5-plus yards from receiver pre-snap) two-thirds of the time against Green Bay and produced 139 receiving yards, the second most by any receiver in a game this season.
As a whole, Green Bay’s defense couldn’t slow the Vikings’ wide outs. Minnesota’s receivers caught 69% of their targets for 277 yards and three touchdowns, with Jefferson and Thielen combining to catch 16 of their 20 targets. This after the Packers entered the day allowing the lowest completion percentage to wide receivers (56%) in the NFL.
Minnesota’s offensive identity found a boost of aggressiveness that carried over from the Chargers win to the Green Bay game and saw Cousins average 9.7 yards per pass on a day he threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns with a 128.4 passer rating.
“Certainly we’ve been fairly aggressive the last couple weeks and we’ll have to see week to week and game to game, moment to moment how we choose to attack, but certainly we feel good about the people we get to throw the ball to and that goes far beyond Justin and Adam,” Cousins said. “K.J. [Osborn], Tyler Conklin and Dalvin and Alex [Mattison] — there’s a lot of production to be had there throwing the football.”
Cousins had one of his best games of the season en route to Minnesota’s biggest win of the season. The quarterback came away with 131 yards and two touchdowns while under pressure, his second most yards and tied for his most touchdowns while pressured in any win of his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
During pregame warmups, Jefferson wore a T-shirt paying homage to Vikings legendary receiver Randy Moss. After shattering Moss’ rookie records a year ago, Jefferson seems to up the ante every week while being the catalyst behind his team being back in position to contend for one of the final two spots in the NFC playoffs.
“That’s the same type of mindset that I have, just trying to be a legend,” Jefferson said. “Trying to make big plays. Why not carry after him? He’s one of the best in the game. I just love playing the game, love the rivalry and love these intense big games.”
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