EAGAN, Minn. — Memorable moments and massive milestones defined 2022 at multiple times for Vikings receivers.
Justin Jefferson topped the franchise record for receptions (set by Cris Carter) and yards (set by Randy Moss) in the same game, a 27-24 win over the Giants on Dec. 24.
Jefferson moved past the Pro Football Hall of Famers in his 15th game of the season. Carter previously caught 122 passes over the course of 16 games in 1994 and again in 1995. Moss topped out at 1,632 receiving yards over 16 games in 2003.
The third-year pro was targeted 184 times on the way to breaking teammate Adam Thielen's single-season record for games with 100-plus yards. Jefferson posted 10 such performances, but he also had seven contests (including the regular-season finale when he played sparingly and the playoff game) in which opponents were able to limit him to fewer than 50 yards. The Vikings were 9-1 when Jefferson posted 100-plus yards and 3-4 in games when he was held to fewer than 50.
Thielen totaled 70 catches for 716 yards and six touchdowns, ranking second on the team in all three categories, as well as with 107 targets. Those were his fourth-most catches, sixth-most yards and tied for his fourth-most touchdowns in a season. His 70 receptions would have led nine other NFL teams (Giants, Packers, Bears, Patriots, Broncos, Panthers, Texans, Titans and Cardinals).
The Vikings used 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three receivers) more than 70 percent of the time, continuing increased opportunities for K.J. Osborn in his third pro season. Osborn finished with a career-high 60 receptions for 650 yards and five scores on 90 targets.
He has making it do a different bowl game in mind, though.
"We had a good season. You can call it a good season. But I wouldn't call it a success," Jefferson said as the Vikings cleaned out their lockers on Jan. 16. "Everybody wants to get to the Super Bowl. That's the success of the season. But you can say you had a good run at the Super Bowl."
Notable Numbers: 623 & 413
Jefferson turned in quite the season, even if the metric was just limited to what happened after catches. Jefferson totaled 623 yards after catches, which led all receivers and ranked fourth leaguewide behind running backs Austin Ekeler and Christian McCaffrey, and tight end Travis Kelce.
That prowess helped him become the NFL's first player to gain more than 400 receiving yards over expected in two separate seasons (metric tracked since 2018). He finished the year with a whopping 413 receiving yards over expected, according to Next Gen Stats.
That ranks fifth all-time since NGS began calculating the metric behind Ja'Marr Chase (563 in 2021), Cooper Kupp (491 in 2021), Jefferson (427 in 2020) and Michael Thomas (420 in 2019).
View the best photos of Vikings wide receivers, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Jalen Reagor and Jalen Nailor during the 2022-23 season.
Thielen's first touchdown of the season was the 50th of his career, and the 1-yard score began Minnesota's first of two comebacks against Detroit on the day.
Osborn rushed over to greet Thielen, who became the fourth undrafted player in NFL history with 50 or more touchdown catches and tied Sammy White for fourth in franchise history.
Thielen finished his campaign with 55 receiving touchdowns, passing Anthony Carter (52) for third in team history and trailing only Cris Carter (110) and Moss (92).
While the pass to Thielen gave Minnesota an initial spark to rally from a 14-point deficit and tie the game at halftime, Osborn's first score of the season put the game away.
He secured a 28-yard pass from Kirk Cousins with just 45 seconds remaining for a 28-24 victory in Week 3 that started a seven-game winning streak.
Recorded 128 catches for 1,809 yards (14.1 average) and eight touchdowns on 184 targets; rushed four times for 24 yards and a touchdown; 2-of-2 passing for 34 yards; started all 17 games and played a career-high 1,079 offensive snaps (92.4 percent)
Recorded 70 catches for 716 yards (10.2 average) and six touchdowns on 107 targets; rushed one time for a gain of 4; started all 17 games and played a career-high 1,042 offensive snaps (89.2 percent)
Recorded 60 catches for 650 yards (10.8 average) and five touchdowns on 90 targets; rushed three times for six yards; started nine of 17 games and played a career-high 873 offensive snaps (74.7 percent)
Recorded eight catches for 104 yards (13.0 average) and one touchdown on 13 targets; rushed four times for 25 yards; returned 26 punts for 167 yards (6.4 average); played 82 offensive snaps (7.0 percent) and 62 special teams snaps (7.0 percent)
Recorded nine catches for 179 yards (19.9 average) and one touchdown on 13 targets; appeared in 15 games and played 57 offensive snaps (4.9 percent) and 216 special teams snaps
The highest highs
1. Reaching out in Buffalo
The Vikings and Bills met in a hyped game in mid-October and turned in one of the best contests during the entire NFL season.
Jefferson opened with a 46-yard reception on third-and-11 and quickly followed with a 22-yard touchdown on his second catch (converted a third-and-3).
All told, he moved the chains on four third downs, but the greatest earning of a fresh set of downs was his work to haul in a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-18 on the play that followed the 2-minute warning.
Instead of purely high-pointing the football, Jefferson made an incredible adjustment of his body to reach backward above his head and secure the one-hander as he went to the turf.
The dramatic connection between Cousins and Jefferson ended a run of four consecutive incompletions when targeting the phenom, and the two entered "the zone" for the final part of the game.
Four completions for 56 yards, as well as a 19-yard pass interference penalty on second-and-22 in overtime, followed as Minnesota won the thriller 33-30.
Jefferson finished with 10 catches for 193 yards, a career high in yardage that stood for a month until he topped it with 223 yards at Detroit (breaking Sammy White's franchise record of 210 in a regular-season game).
2. Comeback? Giddyup!
Vikings receivers played a tremendous role in Minnesota executing the largest comeback ever in a regular-season or playoff game.
After a first half in which Jefferson (three catches for 17 yards), Osborn (two catches for 16) and Thielen (zero targets) were held in check while Indianapolis built a 33-point edge, Osborn kindled the comeback with a 63-yard reception and 2-yard touchdown to put Minnesota on the board with 8:22 remaining in the third quarter. Those plays prevented a skunking and much more.
After a field goal by the Colts and a touchdown run by C.J. Ham, Jefferson caught an 8-yard touchdown with 12:53 remaining in the fourth quarter, and Thielen added a 1-yard score with 5:30 to go. Minnesota's successes then extended to Dalvin Cook in the passing game. The running back lined up as a receiver and caught a simple screen pass that he turned into a 64-yard touchdown, tying the game with 2:15 left in regulation.
Jefferson, Osborn and Thielen finished the day combining for 321 receiving yards on 25 receptions, and Osborn totaled a career-best 157 through the air.
View the best photos of Justin Jefferson during his career-high game of 223 yards and 11 receptions vs. the Detroit Lions on Dec. 11, 2022.
The lowest low
1. Riding high until …
… the following week.
Minnesota followed its incredible win at Buffalo with a dud against Dallas in front of a nearly national audience.
The entire team faltered in the 40-3 letdown showing that was Minnesota's only home loss in the regular season.
Jefferson, Thielen and Osborn combined for seven catches and 75 yards on 11 targets.
It wasn't all on them, as Cousins finished just 12-of-23 passing for 105 yards and was sacked seven times, but the showing was paltry.
2 pressing questions for 2023
1. Speaking of press, what will Jefferson face going forward?
The Vikings thrived when they were able to get Jefferson rolling.
Teams, however, were able to have some success when using press coverage on Jefferson and creating layers of help for the receiver to try to navigate.
How will the Vikings go back to the drawing board to find new ways to get Jefferson the football against that type of coverage or exact a higher price from the opponent by optimizing the football elsewhere?
2. What does the other side of speculation season look like?
Every offseason brings a wave of speculation toward every position group. This year, the predictive forecast has involved whether or not Thielen, who is under contract for 2023 and 2024, returns with or without any changes to his contract or if he winds up with a team other than the Vikings for the first time in his career.
The Vikings have their fifth-year option to exercise on Jefferson in 2024, but there's also a sentiment of figuring out the long-term solution, which General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah referred to as a "champagne problem" last week.
Thielen has meant quite a bit to the organization on the field as he's climbed the franchise leaderboard and in the community. There were times when the ball went his direction with a defender on him, and there were other times he was open and the ball went another direction.
Beyond those two who have combined for 55 of Minnesota's 99 receiving touchdowns in the past three seasons, the Vikings have Osborn under contract through 2023.
Reagor, who was acquired in a trade with Philadelphia, and Nailor are poised to return, as well.