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T.J. Hockenson Hangs Tough, Posts Monster Half in Vikings Win Over Saints

MINNEAPOLIS — Fantasy football players loved T.J. Hockenson's historic first half stats.

Teammates and Vikings coaches loved the reality of his grit and determination even more.

Despite spending the week rehabbing a ribs injury suffered in Week 9 at Atlanta, Hockenson grinded through Sunday's 27-19 Vikings win over the Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Hockenson became the first tight end since at least 1970 to post 10 receptions for 125 yards or more and a touchdown in one half, posing 10 for 128, highlighted with a 28-yard touchdown.

Most catches ended with big hits, whether it was in a pile when he kept moving the ball forward and got an extra boost from left guard Dalton Risner at the end of the play, getting undercut from behind along the sideline or muscling into the end zone.

"I think a lot of it is the people around me. I just want to play for this team," Hockenson said. "I love these guys in this locker room, love these coaches, love the organization, and just ultimately wanted to be out there with these guys. There were a couple that had me going, but at the end of the day, a win helps everyone. So, I'm just excited to be back in this locker room.

"You get hit a few times, you feel it," Hockenson added. "At the end of the day, you get back up and you want to go back and as much as it hurt, you just want to go back in and show them you can still do this."

Each time, he got back up and got open for another pass from Joshua Dobbs, who completed 23 of 34 passes for a career-high 268 yards and passer rating of 101.1 in his first start for Minnesota.

"[Dobbs] was on a mission, and you've got to love that from the guy," Hockenson said. "I've gotten to know Josh real well and just super happy to have him in Purple."

Center Garrett Bradbury and left tackle Christian Darrisaw were among teammates impressed by Hockenson.

"I can't imagine what [Hockenson] has been through and pushed through, but he's an unbelievable teammate, an unbelievable player," Bradbury said. "We see him pushing through that and see him taking more shots and making big plays. We'll ride for that guy any day."

Darrisaw added: "He's a dog, for sure. I don't know a lot of dudes that's going to go out there with the issues he's dealing with and still do what he did. Much respect to T.J."

Hockenson's final grab before halftime was a beauty down the field on which he caught a pass from Dobbs just shy of the goal line and willed himself into the end zone for a 24-3 lead with 16 seconds remaining in the first half.

"That's a K.O. [Kevin O'Connell] special. We kind of get an option to freelance a little bit and so I saw what the safety was doing, tried to play outside, tried to lean in a little bit and get separation, and Josh and I were on the same page, so it was just a lot of fun," Hockenson said. "That was a big-time play and Josh put it right over the back, so when you have balls like that it's pretty easy."

Dobbs, who was acquired by Minnesota on Oct. 31 just before the trade deadline, is learning the offense — and teammates — on the fly, but he and Hockenson were in line, connecting a total of 11 times for 134 yards on 15 targets.

"I literally just asked on the sideline, 'Hey, if we get this look, what are we thinking?' Just to confirm that my eyes are going to be in the right place," Dobbs explained. "So we ended up getting the right look. T.J. did a good job of getting vertical and running to that open area. Because it's tough. The Mike [linebacker] has to run back there. He's got the middle of the field, two safeties. They're usually in that defense to prevent you to take shots, especially down the seam. So for him to be open, get into that little seam, and for me to put the ball over, it was a huge play."

Although Justin Jefferson is making progress from his hamstring injury, he has not been activated to the 53-man roster yet. K.J. Osborn also cleared concussion protocols before Sunday's game, but the Vikings opted to take extra precaution with him.

Minnesota likes its other receivers, for sure, but that meant a flood of footballs — and tackles — were likely headed Hockenson's way.

"I thought T.J. Hockenson was as good as I've ever seen him when we absolutely needed him the most, just like he was last week," O'Connell said. "Can't say enough about T.J."

Dobbs and Hockenson had thrown together a few times during offseason overlaps in Nashville, Tennessee.

"Him coming in has been special because he's just been so dialed in, smart as a whip, just dialed every day, he's in it," Hockenson said. "He just understands and when he starts scrambling, I just try to find him a spot and see what we can do. It's just fun to be out there and continue to win."

Added Dobbs: "He did a great job. Obviously, adding onto a historic day and a historic half, especially playing through injury. Man, that guy's a fighter. And definitely happy to have him on our side."