Vikings’ Justin Jefferson says he feels like Michael Jordan battling the ‘Bad Boys’ Pistons
Recently, some opposing defensive backs have made like Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn against Jefferson.
EAGAN, Minn. -- Three decades ago, the Detroit Pistons were known as the “Bad Boys” of the NBA and did whatever they could to neutralize star Michael Jordan of the rival Chicago Bulls. Justin Jefferson has been watching some of those old videos.
Asked about all the hard hits he has taken in recent games, the Minnesota Vikings star receiver made a reference Wednesday to when the rugged Pistons won NBA titles in 1989 and 1990.
“It’s just like Michael Jordan and the Detroit Pistons,” Jefferson said. “They try to take out the best player. Try to put as much physical abuse that they can on him. I kind of feel that way. People on those defenses that we’re facing, they try whatever it takes for me not to get those big plays. … I feel like it’s happening more and more every game, but it is what it is when you’re this type of player.”
Recently, some opposing defensive backs have made like Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn against Jefferson. Jordan Whitehead of the New York Jets was flagged for unnecessary roughness and later fined $15,914 by the NFL for a Dec. 4 hit on Jefferson. And in the Vikings’ 39-36 overtime win over Indianapolis last Saturday, Colts defensive backs Rodney Thomas and Stephon Gilmore both were penalized for unnecessary roughness for shots on Jefferson.
The latest hits prompted Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell to say, “There’s an emphasis on the teams we’re playing that some of those hits, they don’t seem to be by accident.”
O’Connell was livid after the hit by Gilmore. And Jefferson said the five-time Pro Bowl selection was out of line.
“I didn’t really feel like it was a clean hit,” Jefferson said. “Him lifting up and going to take me high, I felt like it was a little dirty hit.”
In defense of defensive backs, Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson called the penalized hits on Jefferson by the Colts “bang-bang plays” and said it’s hard to make a tackle when you have to make “split-second” decisions. He said, “I don’t think Stephon is a dirty player.”
Jefferson suffered a rib/chest contusion in the second quarter against the Colts when he took a hard, clean hit from Colts linebacker Bobby Okereke and had to leave the game before returning. As for the Gilmore hit, he said the most important thing was, “I’m glad that I was OK.”
Despite all the shots Jefferson has taken recently, he usually bounces right back up.
“He’s shown that he’s very durable,” offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said. “He likes to kind of show them how tough he is when he gets up and (signals a first down) immediately after a hit. It’s a “Hey, you can’t hurt me’ mentality.”
Asked where his durability comes from, Jefferson, 23, talked about his older brothers’ habit of “throwing me against the wall” when he was growing up. Jordan Jefferson, 32, and Rickey Jefferson, 27, both played at LSU before Justin did.
“That toughness has grown on me,” Jefferson said. “I’m an all-time competitor. I want to stay in those games.”
Jefferson not only usually stays in games after taking big hits, he also holds onto the ball. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins made note this week about “his ability to consistently hold on in traffic.”
Entering Saturday’s game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium, Jefferson has 111 receptions for 1,623 yards. He’s 10 yards shy of breaking Randy Moss’ 2003 team record of 1,632 yards in a season and he’s on pace to break Calvin Johnson’s NFL record of 1,964 yards in a 16-game season in 2012. The NFL now plays a 17-game season.
With the Vikings (11-3) clinching the NFC North and considering reduced snap counts for some top players in their final three games, O’Connell said Jefferson is “a guy that’s going to fight me every time we try to start having that conversation.” With a possible receiving record on the line, Jefferson admitted he’s “going to be upset” if his playing time is cut but realizes “you’ve got to save your main players” for the postseason.
For now, the Vikings star figures to run into some more “Bad Boys” on Saturday. And Minnesota receiver Adam Thielen said he knows where Jefferson is coming from.
“That’s probably a good analogy,” Thielen said of the Jordan reference. “Everyone knows he’s going to get his opportunities, that we’re going to be looking for him to get the ball in his hands. … But when you do that, you’re going to take some hits when there’s a lot of eyes on you.”
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