Ordinarily, there would have been 65,000-plus fans in U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday watching the Vikings play the Bears and making enough noise that any exchange between players would have been drown out. But in this pandemic-impacted season, there were no fans present when Justin Jefferson expressed his frustration with Kirk Cousins late in the second quarter of the Vikings’ 33-27 loss.
After Cousins’ throw for Jefferson in the back of the end zone flew over the receiver’s head, Jefferson yelled, “(Expletive), Kirk,” and then appeared to say something about a flag, likely referring to the route he had run and when he wanted the ball. Fox’s on-the-field microphones picked up the one-sided exchange. Because fans and media are usually not privy to this type of outburst — one that happens far more frequently than we think — the video clip of Jefferson yelling at Cousins quickly went viral.
Jefferson addressed the issue on social media following the game, tweeting, “Y’all love blowing stuff out of proportion. And I ain’t no diva … don’t get it twisted.”
Talking to the media for the first time since Sunday’s game, Jefferson elaborated on the situation. “A lot of people just really (have) blown it out of proportion,” he said Tuesday as the Vikings prepared to face the Saints on Friday in New Orleans. “It’s just a lot of emotions throughout the game. So many players have did (that) plenty of times, just this year doesn’t have any crowds so you can hear everything. Kirk’s my guy, everybody knows Kirk’s my guy. … It’s just the emotions involved, just frustrated during the play but that don’t have nothing to do with me and Kirk.”
Vikings fans should be thrilled that Jefferson showed as much fire as he did. Jefferson has had a spectacular first season in the NFL. He’s a leading candidate to be named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and on Monday night he was named to the NFC Pro Bowl roster, joining running back Dalvin Cook as the only two Minnesota players picked for the team. Jefferson is right when he says he isn’t a diva. The 21-year-old from LSU has shown no signs of being the latest recalcitrant wide receiver in the NFL.
What he has shown is that he already is one of the top receivers in the game. That’s been huge for the Vikings, considering Jefferson was taken with a pick (22nd in the first round) obtained last March from Buffalo in the Stefon Diggs trade. Diggs wanted out of Minnesota because of how he was used, or not used, in a run-first offensive scheme. He has thrived with the Bills, leading the NFL with 111 receptions and ranking third with 1,314 yards in 14 games with the AFC East champions.
Morning Judd: Is Justin Jefferson a diva? pic.twitter.com/YQ0bvj28Df
— SKOR North (@SKORNorth) December 21, 2020
Jefferson’s rookie resume, however, is impressive.
Jefferson, who had only five catches for 70 yards in his first two games, has 73 receptions for 1,182 yards (leads all rookies) and seven touchdowns in 14 games. His reception total broke Randy Moss’ rookie franchise record of 69 catches in 1998. Jefferson is the third Vikings’ third wide receiver to be named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, joining Moss and Sammy White (1976). The impressive list of accomplishments goes on but you get the idea.
“It’s definitely a big honor,” Jefferson said of being selected to the Pro Bowl roster (there is no game this season). “I’m so happy and honored to be on that list. Up with the top guys in the NFL, and I’m just ready to keep going. This is only my first year. So many things to improve on, so many things to work on. Definitely a bright start and looking out to finish my career and keep getting them.”
While a wide receiver yelling at his quarterback might be nothing new, Jefferson’s willingness to do that in his rookie season is impressive. Cousins is in his ninth NFL season and is the Vikings’ $96 million man and Jefferson showed that in the heat of a game that doesn’t matter. What matters is that he’s given the best chance possible to make the type of play he can make.
That doesn’t make Jefferson a diva, that makes him a competitor who has no interest in losing. Jefferson is right in saying that being upset with Cousins has “noting to do with me and Kirk.” It isn’t personal, it’s business. The guess here is that Cousins has let Jefferson know what he’s thought on a few occasions this season. It would have been interesting to hear Diggs’ on-field comments because they likely were very similar to the frustration Jefferson expressed Sunday.
The key is that the Vikings are going to have to find a way to make sure they keep Jefferson happy so he doesn’t end up trying to force his way out of town like Diggs did. The Vikings were fortunate to find an outstanding receiver to replace Diggs. Odds are they won’t be as fortunate, if this situation repeats itself.
As for Jefferson getting upset with his quarterback again, that likely will repeat itself, and that’s fine. “It’s nothing personal really,” he said, “just frustration and just wanting to do good. That’s all it really is.”