Justin Jefferson out as streaking Vikings, Broncos take prime-time test

Field Level Media

November 19, 2023 at 2:39 am.

Frigid starts melted away and two of the NFL’s warmest teams, the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos, get together in the Week 11 Sunday night game.

Minnesota (6-4) rides a five-game streak to Denver despite a spate of injuries to key players, including quarterback Kirk Cousins and wide receiver Justin Jefferson. The Vikings are coming off a 27-19 victory over the New Orleans Saints last Sunday.

And don’t look now, but Denver (4-5) is riding a three-game winning streak with victories over the Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills. The Broncos held on for a 24-22 win on the road against the Bills on Monday to pull within one game of .500 and just on the outside of the present playoff picture in the jam-packed AFC.

The Vikings hope to welcome back multiple players from injuries this weekend, but Jefferson won’t be one of them. He was ruled out by the team Saturday. Starting running back Alexander Mattison (concussion) is also questionable but he reportedly will play.

Jefferson said Thursday after participating in individual drills in practice that the final call on his game status would be his to make. Jefferson remains in the 21-day window to return from injured reserve and last played Oct. 8. He said he wouldn’t play until he’s 100 percent healthy.

“Well, I’m the main person who’s gonna make the decision,” Jefferson told reporters. “At the end of the day, I’m the person that’s going out there running, putting my body on the line to win games.”

Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell sounded less than optimistic about Jefferson’s return this week.

“He was listed as limited, and that’s what I would classify him as,” O’Connell said Friday after practice.

Jefferson, 24, was injured in the Vikings’ Week 5 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. He has 36 catches for 571 yards and three TDs this season.

Wide receiver K.J. Osborn missed last week’s game but practiced in full this week and could give quarterback Joshua Dobbs another reliable target alongside rookie wideout Jordan Addison and tight end T.J. Hockenson, even if Jefferson can’t go.

There is no proven option behind Mattison. Ty Chandler and Kene Nwangwu would share the workload in the backfield.

The Broncos might be without guard Ben Powers because of a foot injury. Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy practiced Friday after a nagging hip injury limited him earlier in the week.

The anticipated Sean Payton Effect might be showing through in Russell Wilson’s performance. His 104 passer rating is significantly higher than the 84.4 passer rating a season ago. Wilson has completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 1,806 yards, 18 touchdowns and four interceptions.

The Broncos’ running game, another Payton staple, is picking up the pace in the second half of the season. Javonte Williams has led the way with 436 rushing yards to go along with 109 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

“The more we run the ball, the more it helps our offense get the play-action going and get the deep shots going,” Broncos center Lloyd Cushenberry said. “So we want to get the run game going. That’s the goal for any O-lineman. That’s what we feel comfortable with, and that’s the plan every game.”

Minnesota will try to maintain the magic since the arrival of Dobbs, who is set to appear in his third game since the Vikings acquired him from the Arizona Cardinals.

In his first two games with Minnesota, Dobbs has passed for 426 yards and three touchdowns. He also has rushed for 110 yards and two scores.

This is the first meeting between the teams since Nov. 17, 2019, when the Vikings held on for a 27-23 win on their home field. Minnesota leads the all-time series 8-7.

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