Something was missing from the Minnesota Vikings‘ second-half collapse to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
It was Justin Jefferson.
The superstar wide receiver snagged 7 receptions for 138 yards in the first half but went quiet in the second, seeing only two more passes his way that he secured for 12 more yards in a 20-17 loss.
No wonder the Vikings offense was ineffective — especially in the fourth quarter when Minnesota, searching for a go-ahead score in the final 12 minutes of the game, went three-and-out on its final two drives.
Jefferson was not targeted once in the final quarter.
He addressed his quiet second half in a September 12 media conference, saying he didn’t believe the Buccaneers were behind his disappearance from the game plan.
“I didn’t feel like they took me out of the game,” Jefferson said. “I feel like I wasn’t really covered that much in the second half to where I couldn’t get the ball.”
Jefferson acknowledged many moving parts need to be executed for the ball to come his way; that did not happen in the second half on Sunday.
“There’s just so many different people that have got to execute their plays before I can get the chance to get the ball,” Jefferson said. “At the end of the day, those opportunities, they’re short, so you’ve got to make the most of those. I feel like I had a lot of opportunities in the first half, it just didn’t really come my way in the second.”
Justin Jefferson Cannot Keep Shruging Off Disappearing From Vikings’ Game Plan
Jefferson has shrugged off this similar situation before. But in times when the Vikings pulled off comeback wins in the past, Jefferson has been the catalyst.
Anyone who witnessed Jefferson’s one-handed catch facing fourth-and-18 against the Buffalo Bills last season knows that he’s always a threat to go up and get the ball — covered or not. He won Play of the Year at the ESPYs for the unbelievable feat that the Vikings couldn’t have won the game without.
While protection wasn’t perfect on Sunday, it rarely is in the NFL. Teams are going to double-team and bracket Jefferson. He still manages to get open and should be given more opportunities.
“I’ll always try to prove to them and the rest of this team that I’m always going to be out there giving it my 100 percent. Whenever the ball is coming my way, I’m making the most of those opportunities,” Jefferson said. It’s all up to them when they want to throw me the ball or when they want to add me into the plan. My mindset is the same as always.”
An ultra competitor, Jefferson looked demoralized after Sunday’s loss as his ability to contribute to a winning effort had faded. It was a look that the Vikings should do everything in their power to thwart considering Jefferson’s future is still in the air after no agreement on an extension was reached in the offseason.
“I hate losing,” he said. “I always want to be on that winning stage and celebrating with my teammates.”
Vikings Must Keep Justin Jefferson Involved Against Eagles
A superstar in his own right, Tyreek Hill saw a steady diet of targets against the Los Angeles Chargers last week. He helped the Miami Dolphins win a 36-34 shootout by securing 11 receptions on 15 targets for 215 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner with 1 minute, 45 seconds left in regulation.
Kirk Cousins should throw caution to the wind and take more chances with Jefferson if Minnesota is going to overcome the Philadelphia Eagles‘ vaunted defensive line, which Pro Football Focus ranked the No. 1 unit in the league entering the 2023 season.
Jefferson will have a chip on his shoulder after last year’s loss in Philadelphia and a pedestrian outing against cornerback Darius Slay.
“It’s always going to be a great battle with the top corners in the league,” Jefferson said of his matchup with Slay. “I’m always excited to have those type of matchups. But definitely we have some things we’ve got to get back (at) them on. Having the loss last year, not having those plays we wanted last year. There’s definitely some tension going into the game.”