MINNEAPOLIS — With the Minnesota Vikings clutching a one-possession lead in their own territory early in the fourth quarter at Houston, Kirk Cousins sent a deep throw on third-and-6 toward the left sideline where rookie Justin Jefferson was running a fade route in tight coverage.
The ball was aimed at Jefferson's back shoulder, an angle that's practically interception-proof but consistently one of the most difficult to complete for even the most seasoned and talented quarterback-receiver tandems.
The lanky rookie from LSU turned his body at just the right time to secure the 25-yard catch and extend a drive the Vikings finished with a critical touchdown to fuel their first victory of the season.
Four games into his NFL career, after missing the typical spring practice time with his new team because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jefferson made clear the Vikings made wise use of the 22nd overall pick in the draft.
“We don’t have that time or years banked. At some point, you've just got to play and believe he can do it,” said Cousins, who connected with Jefferson four times for 103 yards in the 31-23 win over the Texans on Sunday that improved the Vikings to 1-3.
Cousins added: "We're going to build trust, but some of the things we’re doing, there is no trust. It’s just raw ability, and you’re putting the ball out there, hoping, believing that he’s going to be able to make it happen.”
After a quiet first two games for Jefferson mirrored a rough start for the offense, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and Cousins made a concerted effort to get Jefferson more involved. There’s no going back now with this budding star.
Against the Texans, Adam Thielen (114 receiving yards) and Dalvin Cook (130 rushing yards) gave the Vikings their first 100-yard trio in a game since Nov. 19, 2000, with Cris Carter, Randy Moss and Robert Smith. Jefferson is third in the league with an average of 21.8 yards per reception.
“I guess you could say this is my preseason,” Jefferson said, "and I’m just getting started.”
After Jefferson's breakout 175-yard performance on Sept. 27 against Tennessee, Thielen saw a noticeable shift in coverage focus and strategy in Houston.
“They can’t really key in on one person. Otherwise it’s going to be a long day for someone else,” Thielen said, adding: “I think this league knows that he can make plays and that he’s the real deal.”