Jefferson leads the league in receiving with 543 yards through four games and was one of a few difference makers on Sunday, October 1, who made sure the Vikings avoided an 0-4 start. The wideout hauled in 2 touchdowns on the afternoon, one of which came over Panthers cornerback D’Shawn Jamison on the final play of the third quarter.
Following that score, Jefferson diverted from his traditional “Griddy” celebration and instead opted for the more widespread “too small” gesture, which is particularly popular among NBA players. Following the game, the receiver said his celebration should serve as a message to the entire NFL.
“I mean, that’s a message to the league,” Jefferson told Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. “I’ll go out there to show that it doesn’t matter who’s out there to stiff me. I’m gonna make a play. I’m gonna make a catch. I’m gonna do whatever it takes for my team to win.”
Justin Jefferson’s Performance Takes Some Heat Off Vikings, For Now
Jefferson’s heroics earned Minnesota its first win of the season and have taken a little heat off of a team that has struggled to protect the football all year long.
The Vikings have committed an NFL-worst 11 turnovers, per The Football Database. Minnesota also ranks 31st out of 32 teams in turnover differential at -8 through four games, ahead of only the Las Vegas Raiders.
Turnovers almost spelled the Vikings’ end again on Sunday, as QB Kirk Cousins threw 2 interceptions, including one that was returned 99 yards for a touchdown by safety Sam Franklin Jr. in the opening quarter. Cousins also fumbled once, but Minnesota was able to recover the football and avoid a turnover.
Jefferson addressed the Vikings’ ball-security issues on Sunday while speaking with Florio.
“It’s a long game. It’s a lot of time to go out there and make something happen,” Jefferson said. “So, it’s really just don’t get discouraged by the turnover or the bad plays that we have on the field. We just gotta reset and just have that confidence to go back out there, have a better drive and put points on the board.”
Harrison Smith Defensive Equivalent to Justin Jefferson in Win Over Panthers
While Jefferson was responsible for his team’s first and third touchdowns of the day, it was the defensive score in between them that turned the tide.
With a little less than four minutes to play in the third quarter, safety Harrison Smith executed a strip-sack of Panthers rookie quarterback Bryce Young. Outside linebacker D.J. Wonnum scooped up the football and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown. The extra-point put Minnesota up 14-13 — a lead the team would not relinquish.
“I feel like that changed the whole game around,” Jefferson said. “Just us having that momentum from that play. I felt like we kind of leaned on that play and kind of played the rest of the game with more tempo, more energy.”