By the end of a wild back-and-forth game between NFC North rivals, the Vikings receiver had helped his team claw back to .500 for a second time this season in a dramatic 34-31 win.
Jefferson exploded against the Packers with eight catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns, following up on a Week 10 performance against the Los Angeles Chargers in which he caught nine passes for 143 yards. He now has 11 career 100-yard games, tying Randy Moss and Juju Smith-Schuster for the second most in a player’s first two seasons since the 1970 merger.
“I was telling them I’m not leaving today without getting in the end zone,” Jefferson said. “So, glad I got in there twice. I’ve been telling them to just throw it up to any one of us. We’re confident enough to make the catch, make a big play for the team, and I feel like we made a lot of those today.”
Jefferson didn’t reach the end zone until the second half Sunday but was responsible for setting up two early touchdowns. On his third catch of the game, he took a 56-yard reception down to the goal line and Dalvin Cook punched in a 1-yard rushing touchdown on the next play to give the Vikings a 9-3 lead.
On Minnesota’s ensuing drive in the second quarter, Jefferson drew a 37-yard defensive pass interference penalty on a deep ball that moved the Vikings from their own 39-yard line to Green Bay’s 24-yard line. The Vikings caught another break three plays later when a Kirk Cousins interception was nullified by a roughing the passer penalty on a ball intended for Jefferson. Three plays after that, Adam Thielen found the end zone to put the Vikings up 16-3.
Jefferson’s first touchdown came in the third quarter with the receiver lined up in the backfield. He caught a 9-yard TD off an option route, a play Jefferson said he ran at LSU. This was his first career reception from out of the backfield in the NFL.
“Everybody knows he’s not in there for protection,” coach Mike Zimmer joked postgame.
Jefferson’s second score helped the Vikings wrestle the lead back from Green Bay when he caught a 23-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. After successfully converting a two-point attempt with Cook, Minnesota took a 31-24 lead only to find the game tied up moments later when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of Green Bay’s ensuing drive.
Including Sunday’s game — that came down to Greg Joseph booting a 29-yard field goal to give Minnesota the win — the Vikings have had five games where the game-winning score came on the final play. According to Elias, that ties the most through 10 games since the 1970 merger.
“That’s why we’re in a rivalry,” Cook said. “I’ve come to learn about this rivalry since I got here. It’s special. There’s a relationship. We want to win, knowing the type of atmosphere it is, it’s fun. Going back and forth, we wanted the ball in our hands.”
Green Bay’s defense learned a hard lesson Sunday: Playing soft coverage against Jefferson just won’t cut it.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Jefferson faced off coverage (where the defender lines up 5-plus yards from receiver pre-snap) two-thirds of the time against Green Bay and produced 139 receiving yards, the second most by any receiver in a game this season.
As a whole, Green Bay’s defense couldn’t slow the Vikings’ wide outs. Minnesota’s receivers caught 69% of their targets for 277 yards and three touchdowns, with Jefferson and Thielen combining to catch 16 of their 20 targets. This after the Packers entered the day allowing the lowest completion percentage to wide receivers (56%) in the NFL.
Minnesota’s offensive identity found a boost of aggressiveness that carried over from the Chargers win to the Green Bay game and saw Cousins average 9.7 yards per pass on a day he threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns with a 128.4 passer rating.
“Certainly we’ve been fairly aggressive the last couple weeks and we’ll have to see week to week and game to game, moment to moment how we choose to attack, but certainly we feel good about the people we get to throw the ball to and that goes far beyond Justin and Adam,” Cousins said. “K.J. [Osborn], Tyler Conklin and Dalvin and Alex [Mattison] — there’s a lot of production to be had there throwing the football.”
Cousins had one of his best games of the season en route to Minnesota’s biggest win of the season. The quarterback came away with 131 yards and two touchdowns while under pressure, his second most yards and tied for his most touchdowns while pressured in any win of his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
During pregame warmups, Jefferson wore a T-shirt paying homage to Vikings legendary receiver Randy Moss. After shattering Moss’ rookie records a year ago, Jefferson seems to up the ante every week while being the catalyst behind his team being back in position to contend for one of the final two spots in the NFC playoffs.
“That’s the same type of mindset that I have, just trying to be a legend,” Jefferson said. “Trying to make big plays. Why not carry after him? He’s one of the best in the game. I just love playing the game, love the rivalry and love these intense big games.”
If Ben Roethlisberger retires, who’s the next Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback? – Pittsburgh Steelers Blog
With the Steelers’ season-ending skid and playoff debacle against the Cleveland Browns fresh in his mind, Roethlisberger made it known he was ready to attempt another Super Bowl run. After discussions, the Steelers determined they wanted that too, but not at Roethlisberger’s $41.25 million cap hit.
The two sides negotiated and came to a deal in March: Roethlisberger reduced his pay by $5 million for a $14 million salary in 2021 and added four voidable years to his deal, freeing up $15 million in cap space for the 2021 season.
And speaking in August, team CEO and President Art Rooney II didn’t rule out a scenario where Roethlisberger played beyond the 2021 season.
“It’s not written in stone that this is his last year,” Rooney told a small group of reporters at Steelers camp. “We’re aware this could be Ben’s last year. We hope it’s a great one. That’s as far as we can go with it right now. Obviously, if this is his last year, then next year we’ll be making decisions on a quarterback, and we’ll address it as the time comes up.”
But with six games left in the regular season, the 39-year-old quarterback is telling former teammates and some within the organization that he expects this to be his final season, league sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The Steelers are 6-8-1 in their last 15 games including playoffs since starting 11-0 in 2020.
That leaves the Steelers without a clear path forward at quarterback — something they delayed while the organization attempted to build a supporting cast for Roethlisberger’s final run.
Who might the Steelers turn to under center? There isn’t an obvious choice, but there are plenty of options.
On the Steelers roster
Rudolph is the only quarterback currently on the roster with a contract through 2022. The Steelers believed he had first-round talent when they drafted him in 2018, but that hasn’t come to fruition in the four years since. Rudolph split the starting job with former UDFA Devlin “Duck” Hodges in 2019 after Roethlisberger went down with a season-ending elbow injury. The Steelers brought in Matt Canada in 2020, initially as a quarterbacks coach to further help develop Rudolph. When Canada was elevated to offensive coordinator in 2021, the Steelers hired veteran quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan to lead the position.
Rudolph started one game for the Steelers this season, filling in against the Detroit Lions after Roethlisberger tested positive for COVID-19. Afterward, Mike Tomlin said Rudolph “gave us a chance to win,” but he was inconsistent and often threw off-target and high. Rudolph is expected to remain with the organization in 2022 and have an opportunity to compete for the job. The Steelers also have former first-round pick Haskins on the current roster, though he couldn’t beat out Rudolph for the No. 2 spot through the preseason and training camp. He’s been inactive for all but one game this season. Sullivan praised Haskins for his development and attention to detail during practices, but he hasn’t had the opportunity to show growth in a game situation. During the preseason, Haskins had bright moments, but in his lone start, the preseason finale against the Panthers, he completed 9 of 16 attempts for 108 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
The Steelers are currently projected to have the No. 13 overall pick, and according to ESPN’s FPI, they have a 28.6% chance to have a top-10 pick. This year’s quarterback class is underwhelming. Patriots quarterback Mac Jones stands out from the current rookie class, but while the rest of the group has experienced growing pains, it’s still much stronger than the next group up. If the Steelers added a first-round quarterback to the room, they would be setting up for a longer-term rebuild — something coach Mike Tomlin might not want to do after more than a decade of working with Roethlisberger. But, the Steelers take pride in homegrown talent, and there’s at least one option that checks all the boxes.
The Steelers let Pittsburgh native and Pitt quarterback Dan Marino get away in the 1983 draft, and it kept them from having a solid succession plan after Terry Bradshaw. Now, they could make a move to keep Pickett in town. A Heisman contender and ACC Player of the Year, Pickett helped lead the Panthers to the ACC Championship game in his fifth season, and he threw for over 4,000 yards, 40 touchdowns and seven interceptions. And, his 79 career touchdowns passes tie him for first in school history Marino. Pickett is emerging as the Steelers’ best option in this class, but it’s not a sure thing they can move up high enough to get him.
Howell, with a career 10,078 passing yards and 91 touchdown passes to go with 1,006 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns, is a better version of Baker Mayfield, and Willis has a strong arm along with his mobility. Corral also may go too high for the Steelers to make a play, but he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the class with a 68 completion percentage for 3,339 yards and 20 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also rushed for 597 yards and 11 TDs.
The Steelers prefer to draft and develop, but it’s not out of the question to think they could make a push for a veteran quarterback. The Steelers already have some key pieces entering the 2022 season that keep the team from undergoing a complete rebuild: T.J. Watt, Najee Harris, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Diontae Johnson, Cameron Heyward and Pat Freiermuth. The offensive line needs help in the offseason, and the Steelers will have to discuss big-ticket extensions for Fitzpatrick and Johnson, but the team could avoid a large-scale rebuild if they land a veteran quarterback. And, they have the money to do it. Roethlisberger’s voided contract carries a $10.3 million cap hit in 2022, but they’re projected to have about $45 million in 2022 cap space, according to OverTheCap and Spotrac. That number could rise even more with the new TV deals expected to push the salary cap even higher. The Steelers could put together a blockbuster trade to acquire a big name or settle for a middle-of-the-road free agent option and use their 2022 draft capital and cap space to bolster the offensive and defensive lines and secondary.
Amounts listed are the cap hits the Steelers would incur if they acquired the player in either a pre-June 1 trade or a post-June 1 trade. Figures are courtesy of OverTheCap.com:
Aaron Rodgers, Packers, pre-June 1 trade: $19.3 million cap hit; post-June 1 trade: $26.9 million cap hit
Russell Wilson, Seahawks, pre-June 1: $11 million cap hit; post-June 1: $24 million cap hit
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers, pre-June 1: $25.6 million cap hit; post-June 1: $25.6 million cap hit
Derek Carr, Raiders, pre-June 1: $19.9 million cap hit; post-June 1: $19.9 million cap hit
Kirk Cousins, Vikings, pre-June 1: $35 million cap hit; post-June 1: $35 million cap hit
Deshaun Watson, Texans, pre-June 1: $24.2 million cap hit; post-June 1: $35 million cap hit, plus three years left on his contract
Outside of Watson, these options essentially have one year left on their current deals. Given his upside, cost and team’s current trajectory, Wilson, who is under contract through 2023, makes the most sense. He was unhappy prior to the season and Schefter reported Wilson would consider a trade to the Cowboys, Saints, Raiders or Bears. The Seahawks eventually smoothed things over but at 3-8 and a stint on injured reserve, Wilson’s season hasn’t gone according to plan and he could ask for a trade.
Like Wilson, Rodgers was also unhappy with his situation, but the Packers reworked his deal and voided the 2023 year, making 2022 the final year of his contract. However, Rodgers carries a $46.1 million charge against the Packers’ salary cap in 2022, guaranteeing the team would either have to move on from him or sign him to another extension. If another team trades for him, they would almost certainly rework his contract and give him new money and an extension. This season, his team is an NFC Super Bowl favorite, and he’s in the midst of another MVP-caliber season. But, never say never. Rodgers and Tomlin did a little flirting in the weeks around the Steelers Week 4 game against the Packers, with each complimenting the other in news conferences and smiling at each other when Tomlin called a timeout to keep Rodgers from quick-snapping on the Steelers’ defense. Rodgers also talked about his appreciation for Pittsburgh on Pat McAfee Show, further raising eyebrows. Still, Rodgers seems more content than he did a few months ago, making it less likely he winds up in black and gold.
Garappolo, who began his career as a backup in New England, became a lame duck quarterback the minute the San Francisco 49ers drafted Trey Lance No.3 overall in May. He’s not as flashy as Rodgers or Wilson, but he’ll likely have a lower asking price than the top-tier options. Since helping the 49ers to Super Bowl in 2019 with 27 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, Garoppolo has been average at best. In an injury-shortened 2020 season, he had seven touchdowns to five interceptions, and this season, he has 13 touchdowns to six interceptions. Lance is the obvious future in San Francisco, making Garoppolo a prime trade target.
Two other tradeable veteran quarterbacks to keep an eye on are Carr and Cousins, who both have one year left on their deals. Both the Raiders and the Vikings appear at a crossroads with their respective quarterbacks and coaching staffs. The Raiders (6-5) already fired Jon Guden, while Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman are approaching the hot seat with the Vikings sitting at 5-6. If ownership decides to start fresh in either situation, the Steelers could make a play for Cousins or Carr, although Cousins is the most expensive of the bunch.
And, there’s Watson. He hasn’t played a game this season and has told the Houston Texans he intends never to play for them again, and he would like to be traded. He also faces 22 civil lawsuits by women who accuse him of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior. A no-trade clause allows him control over a destination, if the Texans are willing to trade him. Despite a flurry of activity before the trade deadline, Watson stayed put. But, until the civil cases are resolved, Watson comes with numerous unknowns, including the possibility of NFL discipline pending the outcome of the league’s investigation.
Winston is the most viable longer-term solution for the Steelers among their free-agent options. Prior to his injury in New Orleans, Winston appeared poised to get his career back on track. In seven appearances, Winston threw 14 touchdowns to three interceptions, completing 59% of his passes. The Steelers had an opportunity to sign Winston when he became a free agent in 2020, but general manager Kevin Colbert said in April 2020 the team didn’t make any offers to any veteran quarterbacks, and Winston ultimately went to the Saints.
Dalton and Bridgewater are just OK options, and at best, would compete with Rudolph for the starting job as a band-aid until a stronger quarterback draft class materializes.
Like the free-agent class, these options are most likely temporary fixes — but intriguing options. Trubisky, a former first-round pick by the Chicago Bears, is backing up Josh Allen in Buffalo on a one-year deal. His best season came in 2018 when he threw 24 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, and while his tenure as the second-overall pick was disappointing, he has potential to rejuvenate his career in the right circumstance.
Once Washington’s fourth-string quarterback, Heinicke has been pretty solid as the Washington Football Team’s starter after Ryan Fitzpatrick went down. He even helped his team overtake a Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers team in Week 10. He’s under contract in 2022. Washington isn’t likely to part with him, but he’s worth keeping an eye on.
Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts (ankle) a game-time decision vs. New York Jets, sources say
PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles want to see how quarterback Jalen Hurts‘ injured ankle is feeling before making a final decision about his status for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Saturday.
Minshew got the lions’ share of snaps during practice on Thursday and Friday.
Hurts sprained his ankle in the second half against the New York Giants when he was stepped on. He finished the game but was limping noticeably at times.
Earlier this week, Hurts declared that he would be “ready to go” for the Jets game.
“You guys obviously know I’m dealing with a little something, but it’s business as usual,” he said.
Hurts is expected to remain the Eagles starter regardless of how Minshew plays. He has completed 60.1% of his passes through 12 games for 2,435 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions while racking up 695 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. Hurts is coming off arguably his worst start as a pro, throwing a career-high three interceptions in a 13-7 loss to the Giants.
The Eagles acquired Minshew for a conditional 2022 sixth-round pick in late August. He has appeared in one game this season, going 2-for-2 for 11 yards in the closing minutes of a blowout win over the Detroit Lions. Minshew, 25, started 24 games over two seasons in Jacksonville, completing 62.9% of his throws for 5,530 yards with 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
“I feel confident with either guy — either of the guys if they have to go play the way they prepared all week and went about their business,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said earlier this week.
Las Vegas Raiders rule TE Darren Waller out vs. Washington
Waller, who set a franchise record with 107 catches last season, suffered injuries to his back and left knee in Las Vegas’ 36-33 overtime win at the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving and missed the second half of that game. He did not practice this week. His 53 catches for 643 yards rank second on the Raiders and his two TD catches are tied for third.
It will be the second game Waller will miss this season as an ankle injury kept him out of the Raiders’ Week 7 win against the Philadelphia Eagles. In that game, tight end Foster Moreau stepped up with six catches for 60 yards with an 18-yard touchdown.
“We’ve kind of gone through this twice,” Raiders interim coach Rich Bisaccia said Friday, before Waller was ruled out. “We’ve gone through it when we didn’t have him for a game and certainly Foster stepped up in the plan that [offensive coordinator] Greg [Olson] had put together.
“And then we lost Darren in the second quarter last week and we were still productive as the game went on and Greg made some really good adjustments that way as well, personnel-wise, in the things that we did. So, again, we are prepared to do that if we have to this week.”
A fourth-round pick of the Raiders in 2019 out of LSU who missed three games of his rookie season because of a torn ACL, Moreau has 10 touchdown catches in 40 career games. He has 12 catches for 135 yards and three TDs this season.
Moreau said he relished the opportunity to step in for Waller and also was asked about the coaching change at his alma mater. After a pair of lengthy pregnant pauses, Moreau said, “My mom always said, If you don’t have anything nice to say, you should probably just keep it to yourself. Yeah, I don’t know anything about Brian Kelly, truthfully, I know he’s a family-oriented man and I’m excited for the opportunity he has.
“Fit’s always important. Chemistry’s always important. The more you can be around people, the more you can understand where they come from. Obviously, Coach O [Ed Orgeron] knew just about every inch of Louisiana and anything in that soil and that was very meaningful to the state, obviously to the university, and he was not only an incredible coach but ambassador for football in southeast Louisiana.”
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