Cousins-Jefferson connection strong for Vikes with Jets next

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The long pass from Kirk Cousins up the left sideline landed in Justin Jefferson’s arms in just the right spot in the fourth quarter of Minnesota’s game with New England, a split second before two Patriots defensive backs slammed into the Vikings star.

Jefferson kept the ball secure for a 36-yard reception as he hit the turf, before springing to his feet, flexing his muscles in celebration and screaming to the roaring crowd. The Vikings scored the go-ahead touchdown on the next play, after yet another contested catch by the indefatigable Jefferson.

“I love this team. I’d do anything for it, and when that ball’s in the air, it’s mine,” Jefferson said.

Already owning more receiving yards than any other third-year player in NFL history with six games left to pad his total, Jefferson has gained the trust of Cousins many times over. The quarterback has ever-growing confidence he can pinpoint a pass into a tricky spot and Jefferson will haul it in.

“The eye in the sky don’t lie, we say,” Cousins said. “When he puts that stuff on tape, it earns the right to keep getting the ball.”

Jefferson said he’s worked on hand-eye coordination, grip strength and peripheral vision to aid his success rate on those well-covered routes. The challenge won’t subside this week when the Vikings play the New York Jets, who boast a pair of standout cornerbacks: Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed.

“I’m confident in my game, my skill set to win my battles, and hopefully we don’t get too many double teams,” Jefferson said.

The Vikings (9-2) can clinch their first NFC North title in five seasons with Cousins by beating the Jets and having Jacksonville win at Detroit (4-7), but they’ve largely kept their feelings about their dominance in the division to themselves with the obvious bigger picture of seeding for the NFC playoffs in the background.

“I never think about future weeks, or really can’t afford to look in the rearview mirror either. It’s got to be all about this week and getting a win,” Cousins said, adding: “There are many teams who at this stage of the game are hovering around .500, and then they end up playing for the Super Bowl, so you understand how this league will beat you up and go back and forth.”

The Jets (7-4) are one game out of the AFC East lead, in an even more foreign place with meaningful games ahead in December. They haven’t been to the playoffs in 12 years.

“It’s not like it’s an elephant in the room. It’s not like you’re not going to acknowledge it, but none of it matters at the end of the day,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “You’ve got to quickly refocus back to what’s important, and what’s important is this moment.”