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Vikings’ Justin Jefferson bounces back with ‘monster’ game after 2 lean weeks

Jefferson bounced back from two lackluster performances to catch 10 passes for 147 yards in Sunday’s 28-25 win over New Orleans in London and was named Man of the Match.

NFL: International Series-Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson runs with the ball in the third quarter Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022, against the New Orleans Saints in London. Jefferson had 10 catches for 147 yards in the 28-25 win.
Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS -- For two straight games, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson didn’t have many catches. But he also didn’t have any temper tantrums.

After having nine receptions for a career-high 184 yards in the opener against Green Bay, Jefferson had just nine catches for 62 yards in Weeks 2 and 3 while facing plenty of double teams. But he bounced back to catch 10 passes for 147 yards in Sunday’s 28-25 win over New Orleans in London and was named Man of the Match.

During his two games with limited production, Jefferson said he kept any frustration he had to himself. He said after Sunday’s game that’s because he has matured and become more of a leader in his third season.

“Not getting frustrated, not having those temper tantrums on the sideline when I’m not getting my way,’’ Jefferson said of the difference from his first two years.

Jefferson saw a lot less double teams against the Saints, who used four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore on him. But Jefferson won the majority of the battles between the two, and head coach Kevin O’Connell was quite pleased with that.

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“(It) obviously was great to get him those touches and those plays (Sunday) to get back where he belongs within our offense having a ton of success,’’ O’Connell said Monday.

Jefferson was pivotal down the stretch for the Vikings (3-1). After they fell behind for the first time in the game early in the fourth quarter, he gave them a 25-22 lead on a 3-yard run with 4:15 left. Later, with the score tied 25-25, he caught a 39-yard pass down the left sideline that set up Greg Joseph’s 47-yard go-ahead field goal with 24 seconds remaining.

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Justin Jefferson

“He has had two monster performances and two performances where the statistical numbers weren’t there, and I take as much ownership over that as anybody,’’ O’Connell said.

O’Connell worked to create ways for Jefferson to again catch plenty of balls. Through it all, he was pleased with how Jefferson responded to having just six catches for 48 yards in Week 2 at Philadelphia and just three catches for 14 yards in Week 3 against Detroit.

“What I love about it and what I thought showed that leadership was Justin’s ability to continue to be a positive force within the huddle,’’ O’Connell said.

Red-zone issues

Entering Sunday’s game against Chicago at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings will address their red-zone issues. They had five trips inside the 20 on Sunday, but they came away with just two touchdowns along with three Greg Joseph field goals.

“I obviously got to be better for us and put us in the best possible situations and scenarios with my play calls,’’ O’Connell said.

Overall, Joseph had five field goals in five attempts.

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Kirk Cousins

“We don’t want to kick five field goals, we want to score touchdowns,’’ quarterback Kirk Cousins said after the game. “I think that more success in the red zone would have enabled us to pull away a little bit. That was a disappointment.”

Cousins completed 25 passes for 273 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His play this season has been solid but not spectacular.

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“It’s still four weeks into a new offensive system to him. …. I think Kirk’s going to continue to be more consistent,’’ O’Connell said.

Briefly

O’Connell said safety Harrison Smith, who was hurt in the final minute against the Saints, has made a “full recovery” after he had “something that was very painful happen to him … in the midsection area.” … After he threw a 13-yard completion to rookie Jalen Nailor on a fake punt Sunday, punter Ryan Wright said Monday, “My phone’s blown up a little bit. I’ve had to put it on do-not-disturb.” It was the first catch of Nailor’s NFL career. … The Vikings will run into familiar faces against Chicago in defensive tackle Armon Watts and wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who both were waived in August and claimed by the Bears. Watts had his first Chicago start Sunday at the New York Giants, but Smith-Marsette has played sparingly, having done little else other than return one kickoff for 17 yards.

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