On the first play from scrimmage of the Vikings' 28-25 victory over the Saints on Sunday, Kirk Cousins took the snap and immediately threw the ball to Justin Jefferson. Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore was playing off, and Jefferson was able to pick up ten yards.
Just seconds into the game, Jefferson had nearly matched his yardage total from the previous week, when he was held to 14 yards on three catches.
That was only the beginning.
Jefferson caught ten passes for 147 yards and scored the first rushing touchdown of his career in the Vikings' dramatic win in London. The majority of that damage — seven catches for 93 yards, according to PFF — came against Lattimore, one of the best corners in the NFL. Coming into this game, Lattimore had allowed just three catches all season.
After his 184-yard explosion in the season opener against the Packers, Jefferson had a pair of quiet games as defenses locked in on slowing him down. Facing double and triple teams against the Eagles and Lions, Jefferson managed just 62 yards on nine catches.
Although he was frustrated, he knew the attention he was drawing was helping open things up for Adam Thielen and K.J. Osborn, especially in the Vikings' win over the Lions.
"I spent a lot of time with J.J. over the last couple weeks, just continuing to tell him how much I appreciate the leadership that he's shown by not allowing that frustration to affect not only his play, but our offense," head coach Kevin O'Connell said after the game. "No matter what we had to do today, within reason, within our normal offense, we were going to get him going.
"So proud of Justin. Huge performance. Gave him a game ball today. He earned that game ball today. In my opinion, he earned it in the preparation leading up to this over these last couple weeks."
The Saints didn't double-team Jefferson very often, instead trusting Lattimore to hold up in single coverage. That proved to be a mistake, as Jefferson used his elite route-running ability to generate consistent separation in that matchup. Highlights of his day included a couple silky out-breaking routes for chunk gains, an over route that went for 41 yards when Jefferson led two Saints defenders to crash into each other, and a 39-yard go route late in the fourth quarter that set up the go-ahead field goal.
It was a classic Jefferson performance. This was the sixth game of his career with at least 145 receiving yards, tying Tyreek Hill for the most such games since 2020.
Jefferson and Lattimore went at it all game long. Although Jefferson got the best of him, Lattimore was in good position on a couple balls Jefferson dropped. It was a heck of an individual matchup between two of the truly elite players at their respective positions.
In the end, nothing summed up the matchup better than the final play between the two. Jefferson beat Lattimore on a simple outside release, gained separation on a go route with his speed, and made the catch on a perfect throw from Cousins. Lattimore, looking defeated, held onto Jefferson's ankle for a second before putting his hands on his head.
After the catch, Jefferson gave a quick taunting glance back at Lattimore to seal the deal. The next day, he took to Instagram to flex a bit more, comparing the moment to Allen Iverson famously stepping over Tyronn Lue.
I think it's safe to say any concerns about Jefferson after Weeks 2 and 3 were overblown. He's in the conversation as the best receiver in the league, and he proved that again with a dominant performance against a top corner.
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