The Great Equalizer for Vikings

Justin Jefferson
Justin Jefferson

The Minnesota Vikings 2023 campaign was utterly dead after Week 5, losing at home to the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and holding a 1-4 record.

Reigning Offensive Player of the Year Justin Jefferson was also lost to injured reserve, where he’d remain for seven games.

The Great Equalizer for Vikings

Toast. Write them off. Hold a trade fire sale. Plan for the 2024 NFL Draft. That was the sentiment among many Vikings fans. Of course, that panic was premature, and Minnesota somehow got hot without Jefferson, rattling off five wins and ultimately a 5-2 record during his absence.

Now, the great equalizer is scheduled to return — when the Vikings need him the most.

The Great Equalizer
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Jefferson was activated from IR last week, and barring something totally unforeseen will play at the Las Vegas Raiders this weekend. It’s unclear who will play quarterback, as head coach Kevin O’Connell wouldn’t name a starter last week, but he should get to that sometime later this week.

Whoever is tabbed as QB1, well, he must feed Jefferson. It’s the only hope for Minnesota to compile a 3-2 record or better in the next five games and subsequently reach the playoffs. A 3-2 record almost assuredly plugs the Vikings into the postseason; a 2-3 mark or worse disqualifies.

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O’Connell said last week about Jefferson’s impending return and his decision at QB1, “We’re going to make sure that whoever is playing quarterback is aware and understands the intent behind plays where either Justin is the primary, or — based upon coverage, based upon the defensive look — how to quickly and efficiently get to the right place to go with the football.”

Joshua Dobbs has started the last three Vikings games, and the club is 1-2 in those contests. In his first game, although not technically a starter, Dobbs was brilliant, so anyone who buys into “quarterback record” as a worthwhile statistic should assign Dobbs a 2-2 win-loss.

Happened to Vikings
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O’Connell continued, “In the end, that’s what the NFL passing game is about: rhythm, timing, understanding that the defense can and will take some things away, but progressing in rhythm.”

It never made much sense that Minnesota would get better without Jefferson in Weeks 6 through 12, and in the last two games, the Vikings looked like a team that sorely needed an All-Pro wide receiver. Dobbs doesn’t pass outside the numbers too efficiently, and perhaps Jefferson’s presence will aid Dobbs’ skillset or enhance Nick Mullens’ or Jaren Hall’s performance.

Return from IR Gets
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

But the time is now. Plain and simple. Jefferson was always going to return this season, and he rejoins a team begging for a playmaker. DobbsMania ran out, at least the Jeffersonless version, and Jefferson can kickstart newfound momentum.

If Vikings fans are banking hope on a playoff push down the stretch, Jefferson is the lone catalyst and biggest hope to end the two-game skid. Offensive operations have grown stale without him.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

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