When Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson was running down the field at times in the season opener against Green Bay, he could scarcely believe his eyes. Rarely in his NFL career had he been so open.
“I was surprised on some routes of me being open,” the third-year pro said Thursday. “As you can see on some of the plays, I was acting like somebody was going to be there and nobody was there.”
With that being the case, Jefferson caught nine passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns in Minnesota’s 23-7 win over the Packers on Sept. 11 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Now, the Vikings (12-3) will face the Packers (7-8) again. And on Sunday at Lambeau Field, Jefferson figures to see completely different coverage than he got 3½ months ago.
“I’m definitely expecting them to play a little differently,” Jefferson said. “I definitely remember (cornerback) Jaire (Alexander) saying he was wishing to play me man-to-man more.”
After Green Bay’s ugly loss, Alexander said he had hoped to cover Jefferson closely but it was “not my call.” On Thursday, he shrugged off Jefferson’s big game.
“He don’t jump in no super suit and get dressed and jump outside,” Alexander said. “I don’t either, sometimes. But he (is) human is what I’m saying. … He’s a really good receiver. But at the end of the day, I’m a really good corner. We’ve got really good corners. … You don’t want to put too much focus on that one person because it’s like, the first game, that was a fluke.”
Regardless, that game got Jefferson started in what has been record-breaking season. He leads the NFL with 123 catches and 1,756 yards, and last Saturday against the New York Giants broke Cris Carter’s team record of 122 receptions and Randy Moss’ record of 1,632 receiving yards.
“Obviously, Jefferson’s the best in the game,” Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur said.
With that in mind, the Packers will look to come up with something new to defend Jefferson.
“We’ve got to make sure that we don’t have any breakdowns, first and foremost, in coverage,” LaFleur said. “And there were a couple times (in the previous game) we were just a little hesitant on the back end, and he was able to get behind us.”
Jefferson has been getting behind a lot of defenses this season. He’s on pace to break the NFL record of 1,964 yards receiving set by Detroit’s Calvin Johnson in 2012.
Johnson did it during a 16-game season, and this is the NFL’s second 17-game season. If Jefferson were to duplicate the team-record 223-yard game he had Dec. 11 at Detroit, he could break the mark in Minnesota’s 16th game. Overall, he said he’s thinking more about the Vikings trying to win their final two games and secure the No. 2 NFC seed to put themselves in better position to reach Jefferson’s ultimate goal.
“If I do get the record, I get the record,” he said. “It’s not too much on my mind at this moment. We all have that one goal of reaching the Super Bowl. If I get the record and we don’t get to the Super Bowl, what’s the point?”
Offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said the Vikings won’t force the ball to Jefferson these final two games in an effort for him to get the record. But he said if Jefferson was close to the record, they might look to “flip him a couple of passes and try to get that thing.”
There has been MVP talk surrounding Jefferson, but he reiterated Thursday he knows the odds are against him. No receiver has won the award, and it has gone to a quarterback the past nine seasons. Jefferson said players at any position should be considered for the award, and he does appreciate home fans regularly chanting “MVP, MVP, MVP” at games.
“I hear the MVP chants, and the fans definitely are wonderful for giving me those,” he said.
Jefferson doesn’t figure to hear many favorable chants at Lambeau Field, where he will play for the third time. On his previous trip, on Jan. 2, 2022, it was 11 degrees at kickoff for a night game, and Jefferson complained about the cold. At least for Sunday’s 3:25 p.m. game, temperatures are forecast to be in the upper 30s at kickoff.
“I think I am getting used to (the cold) a little bit, as much as I hate to say that,” Jefferson said. “Definitely it being a little warmer, it’s going to help a little bit at least.”
It also figures to be different whatever the Packers do to prevent Jefferson from getting so open this time.
“For him to have that much separation (was) pretty unbelievable,” Vikings receiver Adam Thielen said of the opener. “There should be a lot of eyes on him” this time.