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Loss spoils receiver Justin Jefferson’s career day for Vikings

Second-year star hauls in 182 yards.

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DETROIT — Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson had the best performance of his brief NFL career, and you wouldn’t have known it judging by his body language during Sunday’s post-game press conference at Ford Field.

Veteran receiver Adam Thielen exited the 29-27 loss to the Detroit Lions with a sprained ankle in the opening quarter, and that gave others an opportunity to step up.

Tyler Conklin caught seven passes for 56 yards, including the tight end grabbing a 7-yard reception that set up Alex Mattison with an 8-yard touchdown run on the next play during the third quarter. K.J. Osborn helped the Vikings trim their deficit to 23-21 to open the fourth quarter thanks to a pair of chain-moving receptions and a diving TD grab. The backup receiver caught a 21-yard pass on third-and-long and then followed it up with a 14-yarder on the next play. That drive ended with him stretching out for a 5-yard TD from Kirk Cousins.

But neither had a day quite like Jefferson, whose 182 yards on 11 receptions was a career-high.

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“Not really,” the second-year pro said when asked if he was excited about his big day. “As long as we don’t get the W, it doesn’t matter what type of game I have. It doesn’t matter if I have a career game, a record-setting game. If we don’t come out with a W, it’s pointless.”

His reaction might have been different had the Vikings’ defense made a stop on the final play.

Still, his effort was noteworthy.

Most of Jefferson’s damage came late in the game. He had five catches for 85 yards in the opening half, but the Vikings were 1 of 6 on third-down conversions and left several points on the field.

“They (Detroit’s defense) played a great first half, and we came out very slow,” Jefferson said. “In the red zone a couple of times, we went 0 for 3, so we’ve just got to finish our drives and play better.”

Jefferson rarely lined up in the same spot two plays in a row.

He went in motion. He lined up outside. He ran underneath routes. He even attempted a receiver pass to Osborn.

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“Klint (Kubiak) and Andrew (Janocko) and Keenan (McCardell) do a great job of trying to find ways (to get Jefferson involved), even if teams are taking him away,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “I thought they did a good job throughout the game, making adjustments so that Justin could still get the opportunities he did.”

It was the most Jefferson’s been targeted since Week 6 at Carolina (14), his most receptions since Week 10 at the Los Angeles Chargers (11) and the most yards he’s had since his 169 two weeks ago against Green Bay.

It was also the best performance he’s had since collecting 14 receptions for 227 yards and four TDs in LSU’s win over Oklahoma during the 2019 College Football Playoff semifinal.

Yet, none of that matters, especially with the Vikings having a short week. They host the Pittsburgh Steelers for Thursday Night Football (7:20 p.m., FOX/NFL Network). There’s no time to celebrate career milestones after a last-second loss.

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