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Justin Jefferson & Kirk Cousins' Big Days Not Enough for Vikings Offense

It was a tale of two sides for the Vikings offense against Detroit Sunday.

On one side was a record-setting performance by wide receiver Justin Jefferson, paired with a strong outing by quarterback Kirk Cousins. The other was a season-low in rushing by Minnesota coupled with third-down struggles and a crucial turnover in the Detroit red zone.

Put together, it equaled an up-and-down day for Minnesota that resulted in a 34-23 loss to the Lions.

After being limited to a career-low 14 receiving yards and three catches in the Vikings Week 3 matchup with the Lions in Minneapolis, Jefferson put on a show Sunday in Detroit.

The third-year receiver hauled in 11 receptions for a career-high 223 yards, breaking the franchise record previously set by Sammy White in 1976 (210 yards) — also against the Lions.

"It definitely would have been better with a win, but we fought to the last second," Jefferson said. "We were trying to make plays out there, just trying to keep the game going. We started off a little slow, but I felt like we've got to do better as a whole team, in all phases; we've got to play better."

Cousins completed 31 of his 41 pass attempts for a season-high 425 yards (tying his fourth-best single-game total) and two touchdowns.

But it wasn't enough.

Despite ranking last in the NFL in opponent yards allowed per game at 402.2 entering Sunday, Detroit held Minnesota to only 22 rushing yards and sacked Cousins four times. The Vikings were also 4-of-10 on third downs and fumbled twice, with one of the turnovers occurring inside the Detroit 5-yard line.

The Lions used the missteps to their advantage, building a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. Similar to their 28-24 victory in their first meeting, the Vikings tried to rally again late, but this time Detroit kept its foot on the gas pedal and held on.

"Got to give the Lions credit. They played a really solid football game. Thought our guys battled, but we just didn't do enough to win the game," Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said. "When I look at it, there were some positive performances from some individual players and some things that gave us a chance to be in the football game, but just across the board not enough in the run game offensively and a pretty critical turnover in the low red [zone] trying to take a shot at a play right there. … We've got to be better if we want to earn the right to punch our ticket into the playoffs. We sure better have a playoff worthy-type performance, which I did not think overall as a football team we did."

Despite the loss, O'Connell lauded Cousins and Jefferson for keeping the offense within reach at critical moments throughout the game.

"I thought [Kirk] was attempting to will our football team to a victory. Both with his execution level to Justin [and] Justin's adjustments he made since the last time he played against these guys," O'Connell said. "I thought [Justin] played incredibly fast and explosive, and Kirk was right there with him every step of the way. I am really proud of those guys, and I think they will continue to help us moving forward. We did a lot of different things today in the pass game to kind of have a plan of attack based off of what we saw the last time.

"Pair that with a little bit better of a day running the football, and I think that offensively [we're] in a place where we feel like we can compete," O'Connell added.

The Vikings and the Lions both needed a drive to wake up their offenses before finding the end zone on their second possessions.

Detroit needed just two plays, scoring on a 41-yard strike from quarterback Jared Goff to rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams with 10:27 left in the first quarter. Minnesota pieced together a 10-play, 75-yard answer, using a pair of Lions penalties to get in the red zone before running back Dalvin Cook scampered in from a yard out to tie the game at 7-7 with 4:02 left in the first quarter.

It remained that way for the majority of the second quarter until Detroit's Kalif Raymond returned a Vikings punt 35 yards to the Minnesota 48-yard line. One play later, the Lions were up 14-7 after a deep pass from Goff to DJ Chark with 6:34 left in the first half.

In need of a response, the Vikings marched downfield, with Cousins finding tight end T.J. Hockenson for three consecutive completions of nine, 17 and one yard. Cousins then connected with Jefferson on gains of 13 and 20 yards to the Detroit 13-yard line.

After a 2-yard run by Cook and an incompletion, Minnesota faced a third-and-8 from the Lions 11-yard line with 1:12 left in the first half. Cousins completed to wide receiver Adam Thielen for an 8-yard pickup to set up first-and-goal from the Detroit 3-yard line.

The very next play, Cook fumbled the ball and Detroit safety Kerby Joseph secured it and ran to the Lions 22-yard line at the :59 mark.

O'Connell said the play design was for Cook to throw a jump pass to tight end Johnny Mundt in the end zone, but they weren’t able to execute it.

Minnesota was fortunate, however, as Detroit kicker Michael Badgley's 47-yard attempt went wide left to keep it a one-score game at halftime, 14-7.

The Vikings received the ball to start the second half but went three-and-out on their first possession. Minnesota nearly got Detroit to do the same, but a 42-yard run by C.J. Moore on a fake punt on fourth-and-8 kept the Lions drive going. Detroit then capped the 12-play, 76-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Goff to Josh Reynolds to make it 21-7 with 5:44 left in the third quarter.

Despite the growing deficit, Minnesota refused to give up. Cousins found Hockenson and Jefferson for 21-and-34-yard receptions, respectively, before connecting with Thielen for a 23-yard score. The Vikings then went for the 2-point conversion but were unsuccessful.

After a 15-yard touchdown run by Justin Jackson put the Lions back up 28-13 to start the fourth quarter, Cousins showed his aggressiveness on the ensuing drive, advancing Minnesota to the Detroit 28 with a 47-yard completion to Jefferson.

The Vikings were able to get as close as the Lions 16, but a Cousins sack on the next play forced Minnesota into a 41-yard field goal by Greg Joseph with 10:47 left.

View pregame photos of the Vikings ahead of their Week 14 game vs. the Lions at Ford Field on Dec. 11, 2022.

A 41-yarder from Badgley extended Detroit's lead to 31-16 with 4:06 left, but Cousins kept the Vikings in striking distance. He teamed up with Thielen and Jefferson to get Minnesota down to the Detroit 15-yard line before finding K.J. Osborn for a touchdown to trim the deficit to 31-23 with 2:49 left.

The Vikings attempted an onside kick, but Detroit's Josh Woods recovered it at the Minnesota 44. The Lions capped the ensuing drive with a 48-yard field goal to put the game out of reach.

Minnesota (10-3) will return home Saturday to face the Colts at noon (CT).

Cousins said the team has to come together and learn from its mistakes in preparation for its next opportunity to clinch the NFC North division.

"You never want to lose – I think the silver lining of a loss is the constructive work you're going to do now to get things corrected. I think that will always be there when you lose, and when you win it's always tempting to look past mistakes that get made," Cousins said. "I'm not saying that's happened, but it can be tempting. When you lose, there's that urgency that's naturally there that creates some good improvement. So that's a silver lining, but you need leadership after wins, you need leadership after losses. That will always be there to keep everybody focused and ready to go for the next challenge."

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