MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Having boldly stated before the season his goal to be the best receiver in the league, Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson can already stake a claim to this subjective yet coveted status.
Aaron Rodgers can only wish Jefferson was on his side.
Jefferson smashed rival Green Bay for 184 receiving yards and two touchdowns in a record-setting first half, giving new Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell a 23-7 win in his first game Sunday — and the team its largest margin of victory over the Packers with Rodgers at quarterback.
“I live for these type of big games,” Jefferson said. “I was definitely excited to get out there. I’m glad I had this kind of start.”
After accumulating the most receiving yards (3,016) in a player’s first two years in the NFL, Jefferson set an all-time Vikings receiving record with 158 yards in the first half. Kirk Cousins completed 23 of 32 passes for 277 yards without a turnover, targeting Jefferson on more than a third of his throws and keeping the Packers on their heels for most of the afternoon.
O’Connell, who served as offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams last season, had Jefferson moving all over the formation to help keep him away from star Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander.
“They put him in premier spots and attacked our coverages well. Certainly we had a ton of blown coverages as well where we’re cutting him loose,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “If there’s anybody you don’t want to cut loose, it’s No. 18.”
Rodgers’ first game without Davante Adams was filled with frustration, and the three-time defending NFC North champion Packers fell flat in their opener for the second straight season. The Packers are going to need a healthy offensive line for once, too, after they played most of the second half with three backups.
“There’s expectation for whoever’s in there, that they’re going to play well. We had a lot of chances today. I’m not taking anything away from their defense, but we hurt ourselves many times, myself included,” said Rodgers, whose last loss by more than one score to the Vikings in a game he started and finished was a 38-26 loss on Nov. 1, 2009, at home.
Sporting a fresh haircut after a summer of personal rejuvenation, Rodgers returned to an offensive cast that needs plenty of work — running back duo Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon aside. Rodgers went 22 for 34 for 195 yards, and LaFleur blamed himself for Jones only getting five carries and three catches.
Second-round draft pick Christian Watson, who was taken after the Packers traded up with the Vikings for the No. 34 overall selection, juked past 12-year veteran Patrick Peterson on the first snap for the Packers and let what would’ve been a 75-yard touchdown pass slip through his hands.
Rodgers even had his NFL-record streak against division opponents of 38 touchdown passes without an interception stopped near the end of the second quarter when his see-what-happens heave was picked off by Harrison Smith. The last one was snagged by Detroit’s Amani Oruwariye on Dec. 29, 2019.