MINNEAPOLIS — While wide receiver Justin Jefferson and tight end T.J Hockenson started their Vikings journeys at different stages in their careers, they both have had little trouble making an immediate impact as pass-catchers in Minnesota's offense.
Their presence was especially felt during the Vikings 27-24 victory Saturday against the Giants which was sealed by Greg Joseph’s 61-yard field goal as time expired that set a career-long and broke a franchise record.
Jefferson and Hockenson were each targeted 16 times. Jefferson hauled in 12 receptions for 133 yards and a touchdown, and Hockenson had a career-high 13 catches for 109 yards and a pair of scores.
Hockenson's 13 grabs are the most by a tight end this year and by a Vikings tight end in a single season. It was also his third career 100-yard receiving game and first with Minnesota.
View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings Christmas Eve victory over the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"He's phenomenal," Jefferson said about Hockenson. "The plays that he's generating out there for us, they're momentum-changers. The second touchdown he had over two people, that was a phenomenal catch, great throw by [quarterback] Kirk [Cousins]. We'll even be crazier when we get Irv [Smith, Jr.] back."
Jefferson — in only his third NFL season — has continued to shatter records with each passing week. On Saturday, he surpassed former Viking Randy Moss for the franchise single-season receiving yards mark on a 25-yard reception with 6:37 left in the first quarter.
"It's a blessing. It's an honor to break his records and be in the conversation with him, but he has the [Pro Football Hall of Fame] golden jacket," Jefferson said about moving past Moss. "That's what I want at the end of my career, so I'm still chasing it."
Jefferson later broke another franchise receiving record in the fourth quarter, passing Cris Carter (122) for most receptions in a season.
Jefferson now needs 209 yards to break Calvin Johnson's league record of 1,964 in a single season.
Hockenson hasn't even spent eight weeks in Minnesota after being acquired from Detroit on Nov. 1 in a trade deadline deal. In his Vikings debut at Washington in Week 9, Hockenson had the most catches by a Minnesota tight end since 2018 with nine. Then last week against the Colts, he snagged the 2-point conversion that tied the game at 36 with 2:15 left in regulation.
But Saturday, Hockenson helped keep Minnesota's offense going.
After the Vikings first two offensive possessions only gained 34 yards, Minnesota was more efficient on its third drive. Cousins connected with Jefferson for the franchise record before finding him again on a 13-yard pass to the New York 39-yard line.
Running back Dalvin Cook and fullback C.J. Ham pushed the Vikings to the Giants 20 before Cousins found Hockenson wide open in the back of the end zone for a 12-yard score to give Minnesota a 7-0 lead with 3:17 left in the first quarter.
The Vikings got the ball back on a 12-yard fumble recovery by linebacker Brian Asamoah II to open the second quarter and quickly went to work.
After a two-yard run by Alexander Mattison, Cousins completed three straight passes to Jefferson, Hockenson and K.J. Osborn to put Minnesota at the Giants 26-yard line.
The Vikings got as close as the New York 16, but a sack of Cousins forced Minnesota into a 40-yard field goal from Joseph to push its advantage to 10-0 with 9:40 left in the first half.
Then Minnesota went ice cold – matching the sub-zero temps outside U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Vikings offense went scoreless for the next 25:22, allowing the Giants to score 13 unanswered points and take a 13-10 lead into the fourth quarter.
Minnesota snapped that cold streak in the first minute of the fourth quarter. On third-and-5 from the New York 15-yard line, Cousins floated a pass toward Hockenson in the end zone.
With a pair of Giants defenders all over him, Hockenson reached over and corralled the ball from New York safety Julian Love's helmet before hanging on to it with one arm. The 15-yard score put the Vikings in front at 17-13 with 14:12 left.
"We got the look we wanted, felt like I just needed to hold the safety for a second, then put the ball out there to him and then he did the rest," Cousins said about the play. "A couple of times he's kind of the backside of the concept, they defended it well, was able to kick backside and get the ball to him. He's got great movement skills, great hands. He's a smart football player. Then I think our coaches have done a great job of the scheme to make sure that he's able to put his skills to use."
Hockenson added he is grateful for Cousins' faith in him in such situations.
"I really appreciate him trusting me to be able to make those top shelf catches," Hockenson said. "Just to see that, and then go up, it was one of those plays where the ball was just in slo-mo and it was like, 'All right, here we go.' I appreciate him putting it up for me and just being able to try and make a play."
Both teams traded turnovers on their next possessions, but the Giants capitalized on theirs, getting a 55-yard field goal from kicker Graham Gano to trim the Vikings lead to 17-16 with 6:24 left.
Minnesota and New York then went three-and-out, but a blocked punt by Vikings safety Josh Metellus gave them the ball at the Giants 29 with 4:02 left.
A few plays later, Cousins connected with Jefferson for a 17-yard touchdown to push Minnesota's advantage to 24-16 with three minutes remaining.
The Giants responded with a seven-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 27-yard scoring scamper on fourth-and-2 by running back Saquon Barkley with 2:01 left. Similar to Hockenson last week against Indianapolis, New York needed a 2-point conversion to tie and got it on a connection between quarterback Daniel Jones and tight end Daniel Bellinger.
Entering Saturday, Cousins had seven fourth-quarter comebacks, the most this season by a quarterback. With two minutes left and one timeout remaining, Cousins turned to Jefferson and Hockenson on the final drive.
Cousins found Hockenson for a yard before getting it to Jefferson for a first down at the Minnesota 42-yard line with 46 seconds remaining.
Cousins then connected with Cook for a 6-yard gain near midfield, but the Giants sacked Cousins for a loss of seven on the next play, forcing the Vikings to take their final timeout with 19 seconds left.
On third-and-11 from his own 41, Cousins delivered a short screen pass to Jefferson, who turned upfield and gained 17 yards to the Giants 42.
Cousins and the Vikings hurried to the line of scrimmage before spiking it with just four seconds remaining. Joseph then stepped up and buried the game-winner down the middle.
Jefferson said he thought he possibly could have scored on the play before Joseph's kick, but he wanted to leave the team with enough time to make another play.
"I was one person away [from scoring], but who knows, maybe if I would have slipped [the tackle], I would've hoped I would have scored, but if I would have gotten tackled in-bounds, maybe the clock would have ran out," Jefferson said. "Everything happens for a reason, and kudos to Greg by getting that kick up."