Jim Souhan
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PHILADELPHIA — As teammates headed for the showers late Thursday night, Justin Jefferson lingered by his locker.

Kirk Cousins walked over, still wearing his football pants, and they shared an elaborate handshake. Jefferson stood, staring at the ground, seeming to ponder the moment when he reached for the goal line and allowed the ball to slip from his hands, turning a possible touchdown into a touchback during the Vikings' 34-28 loss to the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

Jefferson smacked his right thigh, and the sharp sound caused a few heads to turn in the cramped visitors' locker room.

The Vikings are 0-2, and Jefferson's fumble contributed to their second loss. His frustration was understandable. His production is almost incomprehensible.

In two games, Jefferson, while facing defenses designed to contain him, has caught 20 passes for 309 yards. He is on pace to catch 170 passes for 2,627 yards over the course of the 17-game season.

Of course, "pace" does not factor in injuries, subpar games and the quintuple coverage he may face, but he could slump and still have a chance to break these NFL single-season records: 149 receptions, set by Michael Thomas in 2019, and 1,964 yards, set by Calvin Johnson in 2012.

And Jefferson may be in the ideal situation to obliterate records, for these many reasons:

* He produced the best receiving stats through three seasons in NFL history — he topped 5,000 career receiving yards Thursday night — and he appears to have improved two games into his fourth season.

"Even on the throw where he does fumble at the pylon, he beat another double-team,'' Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said. "Kirk finds him on plays over the middle, and he's fearless. A lot of times when you're facing shell coverage and double-teams, you're going to have to be willing to go into some traffic over the middle, and he does.

"His detailed technique is so fundamentally sound, and then there's just his sheer competitiveness. I'm just excited about what Justin has become and his overall football understanding of how he's being defended. I don't know if I've seen anything like it.''

* "Contract year'' is a familiar phrase for a reason. Elite athletes tend to perform their best when trying to prove their financial worth. Jefferson and the Vikings did not agree to a contract before the season began, and now Jefferson and Cousins, who is in the last year of his deal, have every reason to inflate their value over the next four months.

* As Jefferson has proved the ability to get open against double-teams and catch the ball in traffic, you can see Cousins developing an increased trust in him. "Clearly, the way they cover him throughout the game, you know they're very aware of where he is,'' Cousins said. "I think our coaching staff should get a lot of credit for being very creative and intelligent with how to use him. There are times when he's covered and I have to move on from him, but there are other times when you say, 'Yes, they're aware of him, but I can still make this work.' "

* The Vikings are struggling to run the ball effectively, and their defense just allowed 34 points to the first good offense they faced this season. The Vikings figure to play a lot of high-scoring games in which they rely on their passing game. Cousins has completed 64 of 88 passes for 708 yards. He and Jefferson have played together since the beginning of Jefferson's career, and they're both in their second year in O'Connell's offense. They are unlikely to be severely slowed by any of their NFC North foes, either.

* Jefferson has yet to miss an NFL game.

* Additions on offense since last Nov. 1 — tight end T.J. Hockenson and receiver Jordan Addison, specifically — make it difficult for opposing defenses to focus solely on Jefferson.

* Jefferson needs to average 111 yards per game for the rest of the season to surpass Johnson's mark. Last year, he averaged 106 yards per game.

Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles isn't known for raving about opponents, but he said, "I don't think you can ever stop that guy. … He's one of the greatest to play.''

In football terms, that is known as a "fact."