MINNEAPOLIS – Gold shoes, gold gloves and a golden catch.
Justin Jefferson's first NFL score was a flashy one. On second-and-8 midway through the third quarter, Kirk Cousins threw deep for the rookie receiver, who caught the pass in-stride near the Titans 38-yard line.
Jefferson outran Titans corner Johnathan Joseph and dipped around safety Kenny Vaccaro. With nothing but green turf between him and the end zone, Jefferson slowed his speed, outstretched his arms and – you guessed it – did The Griddy directly into the purple paint.
The first-round pick had a first-rate outing for Minnesota on Sunday, racking up seven catches for 175 yards and the touchdown. His single-game yardage total ranked third in Vikings history (since 1970) for a rookie behind Sammy White (210 in November 1976) and Randy Moss (190 in October 1998).
Unfortunately, Jefferson's performance didn't accompany a Vikings win; Minnesota fell 31-30 to the Titans and slipped to 0-3 to start the season.
"It doesn't really matter how many yards or catches or touchdowns I had, we still lost," Jefferson told media members postgame. "We still have some things to fix and things to improve, so next week, we just need to dial in and focus and come out with the W."
Nonetheless, his production was notable. He added that it felt "amazing" to play an expanded role in the Vikings offense.
"That's just the start of everything," Jefferson said. "[Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary] Kubiak gave me the opportunity to start today, and I made the opportunity count. It would just be better with a W."
The Vikings started Jefferson opposite Adam Thielen on Sunday. According to Head Coach Mike Zimmer, he earned the spot after a good week of practice.
"He practiced well, caught a lot of balls this week in practice, so I think that carried over," Zimmer said.
Added Cousins: "[Justin] had a great game today. Really proud of the way he played, proud of him, and look forward to continue to build together moving forward."
Jefferson said it's been important to prepare for each game as if he'll start.
"Every week, I have that mindset to go out there and make those plays count," he said. "As soon as they call my number, just go out there and do what I'm supposed to do. Of course, teams have been looking at Adam [Thielen] and kind of keeping a safety on Adam. That was just one of the reasons why Coach Kubiak and everybody else on this offense is looking for somebody else to bring big plays to the team. That's just what I did today, and I just really want to bring my team to success."
Minnesota's offense struggled to open both halves of the game and crumbled in the fourth quarter.
In the interim, the Vikings showcased several stretches of cohesiveness as well as big plays by Jefferson; Kyle Rudolph, who made an impressive one-handed grab in the back of the end zone, his third such play since the beginning of last season; and Dalvin Cook, who finished the day with 22 carries for 181 yards and a touchdown. ESPN cited Elias Sports Bureau in noting the Vikings are the first team in NFL history to have one player record 175 rushing yards and another record 175 receiving yards in the same game.
By halftime, Jefferson had 104 yards on just six grabs, two of which moved the chains 31 and 33 yards, respectively. The 21-year-old became the first Vikings rookie to total 100-plus yards in a single half since Randy Moss against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day 1998. (Moss also reached the benchmark in Week 5 of that season.)
But the Vikings opened the third quarter with a costly interception by Cousins, and they couldn't make anything happen on their final two possessions.
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Titans ton Sunday.
"I want our offense, you know, [most of those guys are veterans]," Zimmer said. "I want them to take charge in those moments when we have the opportunity to go down and win the football game. Instead, it was chaos. So we're going to have to get that squared away."
Jefferson's outing, which marked just the 17th time since 1970 that a Vikings rookie has recorded 100 yards in a game, was overshadowed by the final score – but he hopes it's only a preview of things to come.
"Just being able to go out there and make those big plays for the team, putting points on the board and setting this team up for success – that's all that really matters," Jefferson said. "It boosted my confidence a lot, coming out here and having a game like that on a high level. More to come, and we've just got to keep working.
"[Seeing] opportunities that we left on the field and the big plays that we made on the field, it's a bright future. We just need to figure it out," he later added. "We're making critical errors in the game, especially late in the game … We just need to fix it. We're 0-3. We need to start winning some games and get back on track."