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Justin Jefferson's Monster Day Provides Hot Start, Big Finish in Border Battle

MINNEAPOLIS – It's not often that anyone sees Justin Jefferson line up in the backfield.

In fact, he hadn't done it with the Vikings prior to Sunday's game against the Packers. But then again, it doesn't really matter where Jefferson is on the field – he's going to make a play.

Minnesota opened the second half on offense and utilized creative play calls to move down the field. On third-and-goal from the 9, Jefferson lined up as a halfback to the right of Kirk Cousins.

Jefferson ran an option route upon the snap and remained untouched by a defender as he turned in and grabbed the pass from Kirk Cousins. Contact by Green Bay DBs Rasul Douglas and Henry Black was too little, too late for the Packers, as Jefferson backed into the end zone to give Minnesota a double-digit lead in an eventual 34-31 win.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer spoke to media members following the game and was asked about Jefferson coming out of the backfield.

"Everybody knows he's not in there for protection," Zimmer quipped dryly.

When is the last time Jefferson lined up there pre-snap?

"Shoot, I lined up [there] at LSU," he said. "Actually, the same exact route, the choice route. Crazy.

"I mean, I like it just because you get that 1-on-1 with the safety or the linebacker," Jefferson continued, "but I've been telling Dalvin [Cook] if they need to hand it off to me a couple times, I'm all for it."

Added Cook with a laugh: "He's serious."

Jefferson's second score of the game came at a crucial time, giving the Vikings a 31-24 lead with just 2:17 left on the clock, and occurred once again on third down.

Minnesota trailed by 1 and faced third-and-3 from the Green Bay 23.

Cousins stepped back and almost immediately felt pressure from Packers cornerback Kevin King, but he kept his composure and let the ball loose for Jefferson, who out-executed first-round cornerback Eric Stokes for the score.

"I know they were playing in-and-out, I heard them saying 'in-and-out' and ... basically saying cornerbacks lining outside, safety's lining inside. Whoever goes outside takes the outside, whoever goes inside, the safety takes the inside, so I knew it was 1-on-1," Jefferson explained. "It was all about Kirk giving me the opportunity that he did and making the most of those opportunities."

View game action photos of the Border Battle between the Vikings and Packers during the Week 11 matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Border Battle still came down to the wire, par for the course with the 2021 Vikings, but Jefferson's two touchdown-day helped the Vikings notch their 500th regular-season victory.

"Wild. Very wild," Jefferson said of the contest. "But I'm glad this team came through in the clutch at the end of the game, finishing the game off and Greg [Joseph] got the [game-winning] kick down."

Zimmer spoke highly of the offense's performance Sunday and emphasized that Jefferson seems unbothered by big games and big moments. The bigger the stage, the bigger the chance for Jefferson to shine.

"I heard him say the other day that he lives for games like this. That's kind of what he is," said Zimmer, who himself openly admits how much he despises close games. "I saw him this week during the week and talked to him a little bit, and then after the game he said, 'I told you I got you, Coach.'

"That's the kind of guy you love to have," he added. "He's a great competitor, runs great routes. Adam' [Thielen is] the same kind of guy, and I think those two kind of feed off each other."

Cousins noted the benefit of having Jefferson and Thielen – not to mention the likes of K.J. Osborn and Tyler Conklin – on the field together.

"[Justin's] a good football player, and he's a good receiver, and he's shown that again and again going back to last season," Cousins said. "He's been for us what we need him to be. I love getting the chance to play with him. It takes a lot of pressure off Adam to have a player of Justin's caliber that really attracts attention."

For the second straight week, Jefferson and Thielen combined for 200-plus receiving yards.

Jefferson also eclipsed 140 yards through the air for the second game in a row. He finished Sunday with eight catches for 169 yards (21.1 average) and the two TDs.

Jefferson's 104 yards racked up in the first quarter ranks as the fourth best in franchise history, and he's the only player in the NFL this season to accrue 100 in the first quarter.

"He catches the ball so well," Zimmer said. "He goes up, you know, was it last week when he went up and got the ball a couple times on '9' balls? He's got great hand coordination. He can jump. He's extremely fast, and he's extremely competitive. When he runs these routes, most of the time he sets up the DBs pretty well."

The Vikings win improved the team to 5-5 on the season, and Jefferson – who wore a Randy Moss T-shirt during warmups – just wants to keep working.

Asked about his pre-game apparel choice, he just smiled.

"That's the same type of mindset that I have, just trying to be a legend," Jefferson said. "Trying to make big plays. Why not carry after him? He's one of the best in the game. I just love playing the game, love the rivalry and love these intense big games."