MINNEAPOLIS — It was a scene the Minnesota Vikings could only dream of. Superstar receiver Justin Jefferson went wild on Sunday in the Green Bay Packers secondary, racking up a slew of wide-opening passes on his way to the best game of his career.
Jefferson had nine receptions for a career-high 184 yards and two touchdowns as the Vikings beat rival NFC North, 23-7, at US Bank Stadium. But it was the nature of Jefferson’s captures that was so astonishing.
Jefferson is averaging 4.0 yards of separation on his 11 targets, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, and has gained 138 of his receiving yards on plays when he had at least 3.0 yards of separation. And on a 64-yard run that set up a field goal in the second quarter, there was no defender within 10 yards of him.
“I thought someone was about to come from behind and tackle me,” Jefferson said. “I thought [Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander] ran with me. But he wasn’t there. It shook me up a bit, but I’m glad I got into the end zone.”
The Vikings were playing their first game under new coach Kevin O’Connell’s scheme, and Jefferson said he expected to see the usual double teams and cloud covers he’s become accustomed to in his first two seasons. in the league. He was surprised, however, that the Packers didn’t consistently ask Alexander to follow him into coverage.
Alexander was also surprised. Asked about the potential match, Alexander first did the lip-zipping move, then said, “All week, [he was] ask for this game. But it’s not about me. It’s about the team. It’s not about me. If that was my path, you know what I would do.”
O’Connell’s scheme was partly responsible. Jefferson lined up all over the court making it hard to follow him. Jefferson took 41 shots on the outside, 12 in the slot, two in the backfield and one as a tight end. Nearly half of his yardage total (91) came from those plays from the lunge with the other 93 from outside, making him only the second player in the past seven seasons to rack up at least 90 yardage. both from the slot and from the outside.
Jefferson also came into motion pre-snap on seven snaps and was targeted on four of those plays, including a 5-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter.
“I really like the movement,” Jefferson said, “and just seeing the whole field. I’m pretty sure I’m going to do that a lot more.”
ESPN’s Rob Demosky contributed to this report.