Gaining possession twice in the final five minutes of the game, the Vikings called up a screen pass that slipped out of Jefferson’s grasp, then ran on their last three offensive plays before kneeling to run out the game clock in a 31-17 win over the Chicago Bears.
Minnesota was well aware of how close Jefferson was to the record. Rookie wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who had a coming-out party with three receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown, said the players on the sidelines were talking about Jefferson being in striking distance of the record.
However, the coaching staff denied giving Jefferson another opportunity at the record.
Mike Zimmer spoke out on the decision not to feed Jefferson on the game’s final plays in what could be one of his final press conferences as the Vikings’ head coach.
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‘I Don’t Care About Records’
In a postgame press conference on January 9, Zimmer was asked if he was aware of the record in the game’s waning minutes.
“Yes, I was, Zimmer said. “I don’t care about records. I only care about wins.”
The follow-up question: Did (Jefferson) care about it?
“I don’t know. Maybe. You’d have to ask him,” Zimmer replied.
Megan Olivi reported on the Vikings sidelines during the Fox Sports broadcast that “Justin Jefferson has been begging for the ball as he tries to break Randy Moss’ franchise single-season receiving record,” The Athletic’s Chad Graff reported. “Not great when your star WR needs to ask for the ball in a meaningless game.”
Jefferson was put together in his postgame press conference, saying, “I’m not really tripping. Try to get it another time.” He added that it was tough not to get the record, but “it is what it is.”
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Kirk Cousins Addresses Jefferson Coming Up Short
While Jefferson breaking Moss’s record with an extra 17th game would have come with an asterisk, quarterback Kirk Cousins said the team was trying to get him over the threshold, leaning on the dropped screen pass as his opportunity.
“# QB Kirk Cousins said they “wanted to get Justin Jefferson that record” and wanted to do it with a late screen to him. But Cousins is hopeful he’ll get records in the future,” Pioneer Press reporter Chris Tomasson tweeted. “He understands as a professional the win comes first.”
But until the NFL adopts a 14-point play, the win was never in jeopardy as the Vikings continued to run the ball after the screen pass.
Jefferson finishes the 2021 season with 109 receptions for 1,616 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. Moss’s single-season receiving yards record from 2003 still stands at 1,632 yards.
Meanwhile, Jefferson has posted the most receiving yards (3,016) and receptions (196) by a player in their first two years in the league.