Justin Jefferson started his third season with Minnesota by smashing rival Green Bay for 184 receiving yards and two touchdowns, giving new Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell a 23-7 victory over the Packers in his first game on Sunday.
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 against a stacked Packers defense.
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.
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Aaron Rodgers’ first game without Davante Adams was a struggle, and the three-time defending NFC North champion Packers fell flat in their opener for the second straight season. Last year, they deftly rebounded from a 38-3 defeat by New Orleans, but a repeat will require some new wide receivers to quickly emerge in rhythm with Rodgers.
The Packers are going to need a healthy offensive line for once, too, after they played most of the second half with three backups.
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Jefferson rewarded O’Connell for his first critical in-game decision by catching a 4-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-1 to punctuate the first possession. When Adam Thielen ran a slant, cornerback Eric Stokes and safety Adrian Amos both turned inside — leaving Jefferson wide open in the flat after he came in motion across the formation.
Jefferson had a 36-yard reception for a score in the final minute of the first half to give the Vikings a 17-0 lead. He came close to a third touchdown on the previous drive, too, but his diving catch at the edge of the end zone was a bit too far for him to drop both feet down.
That drive yielded the first of two field goals by Greg Joseph — who later made a career-long 56-yarder — and was set up by a 64-yard gain by Jefferson on a burst between Amos and fellow safety Darnell Savage to grab the heave from Cousins. The “MVP” chants from the fired-up crowd in Minnesota came soon after for Jefferson.
Allen Lazard, the leading returning receiver this year for Green Bay, didn’t play because of an ankle injury. Starting tackles David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins were also inactive.
Sporting a fresh haircut after a summer of personal rejuvenation, Rodgers returned to an offensive cast that needs plenty of work — the running back duo of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon aside. Rodgers went 22 for 34 for 195 yards.
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.
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Rodgers and coach Matt LaFleur — the winningest coach in NFL history through his first three seasons — showed plenty of frustration on the sideline. The defense did, too.
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.
O’Connell brought a fresh start to the Vikings both in strategy and culture, while the revamped front office under rookie general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah largely kept the roster in tact. One exception was the addition of outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, who was released by the Packers in a cost-cutting move this spring.
Smith had one of Minnesota’s four sacks. Jordan Hicks had another one that forced Rodgers to lose a fumble on the first possession of the second half.
Packers: LG Jon Runyan entered the concussion protocol in the third quarter and was replaced by rookie Zach Tom. … Rookie LB Quay Walker — the team’s first round draft pick — departed with a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter along with backup CB Keisean Nixon. … Backup LB Krys Barnes, who replaced Walker, hurt his ankle and left on a cart in the fourth quarter.
Vikings: Rookie CB Andrew Booth Jr. hurt his quadriceps and was announced in the second quarter as doubtful to return.
Packers: Host Chicago next Sunday night.
Vikings: At Philadelphia on Sept. 19.