MINNEAPOLIS — Justin Jefferson is only 22 years old, but considering his talent, he might have one of the most powerful voices in the Minnesota Vikings organization.
Sunday he used his voice in one of the most direct ways yet, levying some criticism on the Vikings offense after a 30-23 loss to the Los Angeles Rams that dealt a devastating blow to the Vikings’ playoff hopes. Minnesota notably scored just two touchdowns in five red zone trips, settling for two short field goals and throwing an interception in the first quarter.
“I think we should be more aggressive when we get down there, as soon as we get down there,” Jefferson said, “but I’m not the one calling the plays. I’m just here to do my job and do what’s told to me. But we can’t get down in the red zone that many times and come out with three points.”
Jefferson’s allusion to the play-calling puts the microscope on Klint Kubiak, who’s faced plenty of scrutiny this season but has normally been good handling things in the red zone. The Vikings entered the game as the third-ranked red zone team in the NFL but didn’t look like it Sunday with three trips that would be classified as failures.
Minnesota’s first red zone attempt got put behind schedule by two unsuccessful runs on first and second down, followed by an interception on third-and-goal. Their second visit was derailed by a first-down sack and two throws short of the sticks that ended in a field goal on fourth-and-3 at the 4-yard line. And late in the third quarter the Vikings settled for three points again after throwing short of the goal line twice and losing yardage on a run by the diminutive Kene Nwangwu into the beefy Rams' front.
Kirk Cousins, however, didn’t believe lack of aggression was the root cause.
“I think when you look back at the plays, right off the turnover we called a pass and took a sack,” Cousins said, referring to Minnesota’s first field goal drive. “So that drive kind of got set back because the first play we didn’t have a good productive play, we took a sack. … I think there were plenty of times to be aggressive and take our shots, we just didn’t make it happen when they were called.”
Perhaps Jefferson has a different stance because he was largely ignored in those situations.
Jefferson was only targeted once in the five red zone trips, a short completion on second-and-17. On a day when the Vikings defense generated three takeaways, Jefferson believes the offense didn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
“We definitely let them down,” he said. “I felt like they played a tremendous game, especially with those three turnovers. We've got to find a way to get in the end zone, score, put points on the board, and it'll be a different game if we do that.”
For the better part of two years, Jefferson has toed the line when it comes to public commentary about teammates or coaches, but when you set the NFL record for most receiving yards in your first two NFL seasons -- as Jefferson did Sunday -- you earn a little more leash. Besides, Jefferson’s body language has often showed a competitive fire that wasn’t getting enough kindling, with exasperated reactions to missed throws even as early as last season.
While Jefferson’s record-breaking 2020 campaign was mostly enough to satiate the rookie during a 7-9 season, the Vikings have still yet to be .500 in his two-year stint on the team. With the playoffs nearly out of reach again, Jefferson is saying the quiet part out loud with Sunday’s comments.