Vikings Dealt Probably-Fatal Blow
Do the 2023 Minnesota Vikings have the moxie to fix a 1-4 start to the season to the tune of an eventual playoff appearance? Probably, per the team’s talent level.
Do the 2023 Minnesota Vikings have the grit to do so without Justin Jefferson? Probably not.
Vikings Dealt Probably-Fatal Blow
NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero tweeted Tuesday morning, “The Vikings plan to place WR Justin Jefferson on injured reserve because of the hamstring injury he suffered in Sunday’s loss to Kansas City, per sources. The exact timeline is TBD based on how he responds to treatment. But Jefferson is out at least four games.”
Jefferson hasn’t missed a professional game in his career, so the Vikings showdown in Chicago this Sunday will be a first-of-its-kind situation since the team’s 2019 playoff loss at the San Francisco 49ers. For about four years, with a side dish of Dalvin Cook, Jefferson has been Minnesota’s offense, and the next four games will have a unique feel.
In Jefferson’s stead, tight end T.J. Hockenson will command an enhanced workload alongside rookie wide receiver Jordan Addison, with new target loads for K.J. Osborn and Brandon Powell. A practice squad wideout like N’Keal Harry or Trishton Jackson is also likely to get promoted.
Jefferson will be eligible to return in Week 10, which is also November 6th, after a game at the Atlanta Falcons. In theory, if Minnesota is close to .500 — a longshot after the injury — Jefferson could return and help the team push toward the postseason. But a more realistic fate is a team near 2-8 or 3-7 and having to weigh the logic of welcoming Jefferson back on a team heading nowhere.
In that vein — the Vikings possibly losing some or all of the following four games without Jefferson — Tuesday’s news is a probably-fatal blow to a once-promising season.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has vast experience without superstar types like Jefferson, though, making a career of passing to decent-not-great playmakers in Washington from 2015 to 2017. In fact, without Jefferson, the Vikings now employ a pass-catching corps quite similar to Cousins’ Commanders days. Cousins has “done this before” and could hypothetically keep the Vikings offense afloat until Jefferson’s theoretical return in four weeks.
The hiccup, however, is that Jefferson is one of the NFL’s top players, whose skillset is absolutely irreplaceable. Minnesota will be forced to run the ball more — it should be doing that anyway but rank 32nd in the league per rushing playcall percentage — perhaps balancing the playcalling for the first time in 2023.
Jefferson’s injury is arguably the gravest to beset the club since 2020 or 2021, when Danielle Hunter missed multiple games. In both seasons, the Vikings season went belly up, although the team remained quasi-competitive with 7-9 and 8-9 seasons, respectively.
Depending on the outcome of Minnesota’s next three games, the Kirk Cousins trade rumor mill will also hit a fiery pitch, especially if the Vikings lose two of the next three. The NFL’s trade deadline is on Halloween, or about one week before Jefferson can return from injured reserve.
The Vikings have never turned a 1-4 start to the season into a postseason berth. They’ve tried nine times throughout franchise history and failed.
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).