MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The mostly quiet crowd in Minnesota for a game without meaning or purpose for the playoffs came to life in the fourth quarter as the Vikings rallied past the Chicago Bears 31-17 on Sunday.
Sure, the comeback was fun, but the real excitement was for Justin Jefferson.
The second-year star wide receiver, who caught a 45-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to tie the game with 13:35 remaining, wound up 17 yards short of establishing a franchise single-season record for receiving yards.
The Vikings took possession with 1:08 left at the Chicago 31-yard line, but after one running play they kneeled down to the end the game. Coach Mike Zimmer said he was well aware of the situation: "I don't care about records. All I care about is wins."
Jefferson was interested in both.
"Just being that close and not getting it, definitely tough, but it is what it is," said Jefferson, who had five catches for 107 yards and finished with 1,616 yards in 17 games. Randy Moss had 1,632 yards in 16 games in 2003, a discrepancy Jefferson acknowledged during the week would be unfair to Moss.
The 2020 first-round draft pick from LSU, who had 1,400 receiving yards as a rookie, was not shy about his desire to add another record to his resume. With 3,016 yards, Jefferson has the most in NFL history by a player in his first two seasons.
Afterward, he was asked what he's learned about himself over his first two years as a pro.
"I'm good at football," he said. "I'm able to play and be in this league, and it didn't take very long for me to get the hang of it. But I've just got to keep going. I've just got to find ways to better myself and keep going."
Cousins at times this season let pressure in the pocket and double high safety coverage keep him for too long from targeting Jefferson, a natural source of frustration for the wide receiver and a predictable trigger for sluggishness by the offense. This game was headed that way again until Cousins found his groove after halftime.
Fittingly, on the touchdown pass that Cousins threw to K.J. Osborn to give the Vikings the lead for good, Jefferson was wide open — more so than Osborn, as Cousins himself acknowledged afterward. That play covered 21 yards, which would have been enough for Jefferson to get the record.
"In hindsight, if I could hit the reset button, yeah, would love to hit J.J. there, get the record and a touchdown for him," Cousins said. "But a great play by K.J. as well."
And another outstanding season for Jefferson.
"You'd be surprised how challenging it is to run it back and do it again and do it again and do it again," Cousins said. "The great ones don't really do anything different, but they do it again and again and again."
Cousins told Jefferson as much prior to the season.
"I said, 'Your challenge is going to be in year three, four, five, six, to look back and still be doing it year in and year out,'" Cousins said. "There's a lot of variables that affect that, but that's really going to be his challenge. We will see if he can do it and we can do it."
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