The Minnesota Vikings will continue to ramp up receiver Justin Jefferson's recovery this week from an injured right hamstring, coach Kevin O'Connell said Monday, but the team might keep him sidelined for next Monday night's game against the Chicago Bears to capitalize on the bye week that follows.
"I think that will definitely go into the decision-making process," O'Connell said. "We're right at that six-week mark or so. He's really attacked his rehab, and I think when that time comes, we'll feel comfortable with Justin being out there. I know Justin will as well. It's one of those things that knowing you have the bye, and knowing there are five critical [games] to come after that bye, we do have to be smart.
"This is a player that means a ton to our organization, both for this home stretch to try to solidify our positioning in the playoffs and still try to compete in the division as much as we possibly can, but Justin means a lot more than just these five or six games, as critical as they are. His long-term career here is the priority."
Ever since the injury occurred in Week 5, both O'Connell and Jefferson have said he would not return until he is 100 percent. The Vikings opened his 21-day practice window Nov. 8, as soon as he was eligible, but the timing of their bye could wind up giving him a total of eight weeks off if he does not return until their Dec. 10 game at the Las Vegas Raiders.
O'Connell said the bye "doesn't mean he is going to be any less likely or more likely to play" against the Bears. But the eight-week timeline is clearly an attractive option.
Speaking two weeks ago, Jefferson insisted he wanted to return as soon as he believes he is ready.
"I love the game of football," he said. "I always say that I want to be a Hall of Famer so I can't just sit out, missing games just for the fun of it, or just because we aren't doing well. I know I have a big role on this team and I know that every chance that I get to be on that field, I want to make the most of those opportunities."
The Vikings won their first five games after Jefferson's injury before losing Sunday night to the Denver Broncos. They are 6-5 and have a 79% chance to make the playoffs, according to ESPN's Football Power Index.
Meanwhile, the Vikings added defensive lineman Dean Lowry to injured reserve because of a torn pectoral muscle he suffered Sunday night in Denver. Lowry, who signed a two-year contract in free agency that will pay him $4.5 million in 2023, had 14 tackles this season in nine games, including four starts. To fill his roster spot, the Vikings activated offensive lineman Chris Reed from the reserve/non-football injury list.