Justin Jefferson could not be returning to the Minnesota Vikings' lineup at a better time.
The 6-6 Vikings are coming off their bye week and face the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday looking to snap a two-game losing streak. With five games to play in the regular season, the NFC North division title is likely out of reach with the Detroit Lions sitting comfortable at 9-3. But a playoff spot is still a possibility with a crowded room at the bottom of the conference playoff picture.
Jefferson has been sidelined since Week 8 with a hamstring injury. Two months ago he was catching passes from Kirk Cousins. Now he'll have to generate a connection with Josh Dobbs, who took over as the team's starting quarterback a week after Jefferson went down following Cousin's Achilles injury and a trade from Arizona.
"On the field and in the film room, just going over different plays with [Dobbs], going over the timing of everything like we did with Kirk and trying to find that connection that we can use for Sunday," Jefferson said. "It's been a pleasure working with him and learning things I can learn from him and things he can learn from me. It will be better for us when we go out on the field.
Getting up to speed with Dobbs will be important for Jefferson to get back to his usual involvement in the Vikings' offense, as well as for their hopes to make the playoffs for the second straight season.
It'll be a big adjustment for the 2022 First Team NFL All-Pro wide receiver. As Craig Peters of Vikings.com points out, 98.9 percent of Jefferson's career receiving yards have come via passes from Cousins. That's 5,348 out of 5,396 yards. Those other 58 yards came from Sean Mannion in 2021.
The bye week helped Jefferson have extra time to return to 100-percent health, but as he said last month only he would make the final decision on when he would be back for the Vikings.
At the time of his injury, Jefferson was third in the NFL with 571 receiving yards. He had eyes on reaching the 2,000-yard milestone, but that goal is gone now. It's all about winning from here on out.
"Shoot, we're trying to get to the playoffs, and get to the Super Bowl," Jefferson said. "I mean, the individual stats are not there for me this year, but it's more about winning for the team, more about doing things for the team to help. Of course, I had to do the sideline adjustment, but now it is more about getting on the field and helping this team out any way I can."