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PATRIOTS

Vikings’ Justin Jefferson the first of many top receivers remaining on the Patriots schedule

Justin Jefferson (center) had 9 receptions for 139 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

MINNEAPOLIS — By halftime Thursday night, Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson had already racked up 94 receiving yards against the Patriots.

Headed into the Thanksgiving prime-time matchup, only two players — Green Bay’s Allen Lazard and the Jets’ New York’s Garrett Wilson — had eclipsed 100 receiving yards against New England this season. Jefferson almost did so in two quarters.

“He’s a good player,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said after the 33-26 loss. “No doubt about it.”

The Patriots often tried to double-team Jefferson but they ultimately could not contain the 2020 first-round pick, who finished with nine catches for 139 yards and a touchdown. Jefferson’s ability to make a big play shined, with two back-breaking receptions for gains of 37 and 36 yards.

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The first came on third down late in the first half, when Jefferson hauled in the ball despite Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones leaping to try to break up the pass and safety Devin McCourty sliding over to help. The play kept alive Minnesota’s final first-half drive, which ended six plays later in a touchdown.

The second came with the score tied at the beginning of the fourth quarter, when Jefferson caught the pass in traffic, once again between Jones and McCourty. On the next play, the Vikings scored what would be the final touchdown of the game.

No matter what the Patriots threw at Jefferson, the 23-year-old managed to put up impressive numbers. With his performance Thursday, Jefferson broke Randy Moss’s NFL record for most receiving yards through the first three seasons of an NFL career (4,248 yards to 4,163).

“That’s a special talent,” said Patriots outside linebacker Matthew Judon. “You get those every so often in the league. He does what he does every week. You got to cover him, though. You got to cover him. But that’s a special talent.”

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The bigger problem for the Patriots is that Thursday marked just the beginning.

As Belichick noted after the game, Jefferson is not the only good receiver the Patriots are going to face. The opposing star receivers left on their schedule are as follows: Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs (twice), Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins, Las Vegas’s Davante Adams, Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase, and Miami’s Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.

While Hill, Jefferson, Diggs, Adams, and Waddle round out the top five for most receiving yards in the league this season, every player in that group boasts the threat of a big play.

“We don’t want to make the same mistakes that we made tonight in that game, so we have to correct them,” Judon said.

Josh Allen has one of the NFL's top receivers to throw to in Stefon Diggs (right), as well as a strong complementary wideout in Gabe Davis (left).Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Up first is Diggs and the Bills at Gillette Stadium in another Thursday night matchup.

Diggs enters Week 12 ranked second in the league in receptions (76), third in receiving yards (1,033), and third in touchdowns (8). He is one of two players to have five catches for at least 40 yards; the other is Jefferson.

What makes a true No. 1 receiver such a challenge to defend are the openings they can create for other offensive playmakers, in conjunction with their own production. With the Vikings, for example, more opportunities became available for receiver Adam Thielen and tight end T.J. Hockenson because the Patriots defense was so focused on Jefferson.

The Patriots are well aware that the same is true for Diggs and the Bills, who did not punt once in the teams’ last two meetings.

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“We got another guy that’s pretty good next week, so we got to look at what we can do to better handle a guy like that,” McCourty said. “Between Diggs and Gabe Davis next week, it’ll be a very similar challenge to what we got tonight with Jefferson. If we play like that against No. 1 guys, it’s going to be a long year.”

With Thursday’s loss, New England dropped to eighth in the AFC, losing its spot in the seven-team playoff race. The Patriots certainly can’t afford to have these elite receivers repeatedly carve up their defense if they want to secure a playoff spot.

“From now to the rest of the season, every game is huge,” McCourty said. “Everybody’s playing for something right now. We got a lot of teams left on our schedule that have a chance. When you’re playing teams that have a chance, you’re going to get their best shot. You have to be ready to go.”


Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.Follow her on Twitter @nicolecyang.