Vikings rookie Justin Jefferson has stuck to a similar script in his press conferences that most first-year players abide by: put on a smile, keep your answers short and avoid blasphemy.
But on Sunday, Jefferson, who caught nine passes for 121 yards and a touchdown in the Vikings’ 27-24 overtime win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, spoke his mind about a possibly game-changing call by the officials.
Admitting the Vikings (6-6) didn’t play their best and escaped with a win, Jefferson addressed a deep throw Kirk Cousins made on the opening drive of overtime where Jefferson gave Jaguars cornerback Josiah Strong a nudge to create space and was called for offensive pass interference.
The Vikings, pushed back to their own 8-yard line, could not convert a first down and had to punt the ball away, allowing the Jaguars the chance to win the game with only a field goal.
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Jefferson: ‘I Was Mad… It Was a Bad Call’
While broadcasters admitted it was a ticky tacky call, but justifiable, Jefferson felt he operated within the rules.
“I was mad, I was asking the ref ‘what did I do’ and then I looked at the replay, it was a bad call,” Jefferson said. “But we still came out with the win and still drove down and put the point on the board to end the game.”
In fairness, the reporter did prime Jefferson’s emotional response, calling the penalty “weak.” His answer was welcomed as the 21-year-old has found his comfort in the league and was not timid in speaking his mind on a call that killed the Vikings’ opening overtime drive. He pivoted quickly as the penalty proved irrelevant after Harrison Smith intercepted a pass from Mike Glennon on the ensuing Jaguars possession and gave the Vikings offense another chance to clinch the game. Dan Bailey kicked a 23-yard game-winning field goal to boost the Vikings to a 6-6 record and the in line for No. 7-seed in the NFC playoffs with four weeks remaining in the regular season.
Jefferson logged his fifth 100-plus yard game to surpass Randy Moss’ 1998 rookie season franchise record. He became the fifth rookie in the Super Bowl era to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in the first 12 career games and is currently fourth in the league with 1,039 receiving yards on the season.
While surpassing 1,000 yards was a goal Jefferson set for himself for his rookie year, he quickly pivoted to another veteran-like answer when asked about his 40-yard contested catch that set up C.J. Ham’s touchdown.
“If the ball’s in the air I gotta go get it, there’s nothing much to it,” he said, describing his mentality for contested catches along the sideline, a not so glamorous but pivotal part to Jefferson’s game. “Just being that player to go up there and make those plays for the team and setting us up for the score.”
Jefferson’s Rookie of the Year Stock Skyrocketed
While Jefferson made NFL history on Sunday, the perceived frontrunner for Offensive Rookie of the Year, Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, laid a dud in the midst of the one of the most prolific rookie quarterback seasons in league history.
Herbert, who has won back-to-back NFL Rookie of the Month awards, is on pace to shatter rookie records in passing yards and passing touchdowns after seven consecutive weeks of multi-touchdown performances. But on Sunday, Herbert struggled and was shutout in a 45-0 drubbing by the New England Patriots. He completed 26 of 53 pass attempts for 209 yards and threw two interceptions.
Offensive Rookie of the Year has been an award dominated by running backs and quarterbacks. Since Moss won the award in 1998, only three other wide receivers have won it in Anquan Boldin (2003), Percy Harvin (2009) — who also earned the award for his prowess as a returner — and Odell Beckham Jr. (2014).
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Trevor Squire is a Heavy contributor covering the Minnesota Vikings and journalism graduate from the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities. Connect with him on Twitter @trevordsquire and join our Vikings community at Heavy on Vikings on Facebook.