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Patriots defense will have its hands full against the ‘phenomenal’ Justin Jefferson

Related: Mac Jones wants struggling Patriots offense to ‘flip the switch’ in the red zone

Minnesota Vikings v Washington Commanders Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Bill Belichick’s Patriots defenses are known for taking away the opposition’s best player and making them win left-handed. The likely target this week? Wide receiver Justin Jefferson.

Throughout his three-year career, Jefferson has quickly established himself as one of the NFL’s premiere wide receivers. This season, he is fourth in the league in receptions (72) and second in receiving yards (1,093). Just two weeks ago, he torched New England’s AFC East for Buffalo Bills for 193 yards and a score, while hauling in one of the more impressive grabs you’ll ever see in football.

“He’s been phenomenal,” Belichick said on Tuesday. “Of course, we haven’t seen him in the NFC, but watching him a little bit in the offseason then looking at him now, yeah he was no secret. Been hard to envision the amount of success he’s had in three years. His numbers are historic. So, he’s a great player.”

The Patriots’ defense will certainly make Jefferson priority No. 1 Thursday night. No other Viking has eclipsed the 500-yard receiving mark this season, while Kirk Cousins’ passer rating drops nearly 20 points when targeting other receivers.

Whether New England deploy’s Jonathan Jones on the former Rookie of the Year or throws several players at him in bracket coverage, anybody and everybody will have their hands full.

“I mean some of the catches he’s made you couldn’t cover him much better than he’s being covered, and he comes down with the ball,” Belichick said. “But they move him around. Doubling him sounds a lot easier than it really is. You’ve got to find him, got to get the right guys on him and then there’s some other guys to worry about, too. It’s not like he’s all they’ve got.”

The Patriots were close to having Jefferson for themselves. Back in the 2020 NFL Draft, Minnesota selected the receiver No. 22 overall — one spot before New England was scheduled to pick. The Patriots then quickly traded back where they eventually selected safety Kyle Dugger 37th overall.

“He should’ve been in the top 10,” Belichick said. “He’s a good player, he does a lot of things well. Obviously, the deep ball, tracks it, very good at getting open, separation, good with the ball in his hands, he’s a hard guy to tackle and makes a lot of plays. After the catch, makes a lot of yards after the catch.”