Quarterback Kirk Cousins called multiple plays in the huddle with 19 seconds left in the Vikings' 27-24 victory over the Giants on Saturday. The play Cousins settled on at the line of scrimmage was familiar to not only his teammates, but to the situation at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Facing another Giants blitz, Cousins checked into a screen to Justin Jefferson, in which right tackle Brian O'Neill, right guard Ed Ingram and tight end T.J. Hockenson would form a blockade in front. The Vikings ran the same play in overtime of last week's victory over the Colts for 13 yards to set up Greg Joseph's winning 40-yard field goal.
This one got 17 yards and set up Joseph's record 61-yard winner to beat the Giants.
"It hit last week," O'Neill said. "We knew that if they're going to bring the house, there's a chance we can get to that one."
Cousins admitted he didn't think they had gained enough yardage to win the game. But there was little doubt where the ball was going.
The Vikings offense needed all of Jefferson's 12 catches for 133 yards and a touchdown to beat the Giants. His clutch playmaking lived up to the legendary shadow cast by Randy Moss, whose single-season franchise record of 1,632 receiving yards Jefferson passed in the first quarter.
Jefferson has a league-leading 1,756 receiving yards through 15 games this season.
"It's an honor to break his records and be in the conversation with him," said Jefferson, who also set a franchise mark for receptions in a season with 123, one more than Cris Carter's total from 1994. "But, I mean, he has the golden jacket. That's what I want at the end of my career, so I'm still chasing him."
Coach Kevin O'Connell embraced Jefferson after he broke the record and following a key 17-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that extended the Vikings' lead to 24-16. Against a double-team by the Giants defense, Jefferson ran open over the middle with "one of his best routes I've seen him run," O'Connell said.
"I just told him he's a special player and I absolutely love him to death, and I hope he knows it's never a bad thing to tell somebody you love them," O'Connell said. "That's what my wife tells me."
Jefferson faced man-to-man coverage by cornerback Fabian Moreau, who executed a trail technique in which he purposely followed Jefferson on the route knowing safety Jason Pinnock lurked overhead. O'Connell called it a "less-than-ideal look."
"I felt like I did a great job at the top of the route, by setting up the corner and making him think I'm going outside," Jefferson said. "Great, great throw by Kirk by leading me inside."
Cousins threw while being drilled by linebacker Jihad Ward, so the quarterback didn't see the end result. That was a theme on an afternoon in which Cousins took 11 hits (including four sacks) by a blitz-happy Giants defense. He has taken double-digit hits in four games this season.
"I'm throwing there guessing," Cousins said, "and taking my cue off the crowd. If the crowd cheers, it must've been good."
Jefferson was targeted on each of the Vikings' last three third downs. He converted all of them, including his 17-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
But Cousins pointed to Jefferson's first third-down conversion as one of the most impressive. Jefferson caught a quick throw along the sideline and, needing 5 yards, lunged for the first down.
"His ability to get north, toe tap and get the first down," Cousins said. "Very subtle, but I can't tell you how many guys just run out of bounds there, and we'd be kicking a field goal or punting."
Recent Vikings records for Jefferson
Receiving yards in a season
- Justin Jefferson, 1,756 (2022)
- Randy Moss, 1,632 (2003)
- Jefferson, 1,616 (2021)
Receptions in a season
- Justin Jefferson, 123 (2022)
2. Cris Carter, 122 (1994)
2. Carter, 122 (1995)
Receiving yards in a regular-season game
- Justin Jefferson, 223 (12/11/22)
- Sammy White, 210 (11/7/76)
- Randy Moss, 204 (11/14/99)
100-yard games in a season
- 10, Justin Jefferson (2022)
- 9, Adam Thielen (2018)
- 8, Randy Moss (2000, '03)