No one hurts the Bears like Vikings WR Justin Jefferson — and now he might be out

The Vikings didn’t rule out all-world receiver Justin Jefferson from playing against the Bears, but they sure made it sound unlikely.

Coach Kevin O’Connell said Monday, less than 24 hours after Jefferson strained his right hamstring, that the team wants him to be fully recovered in order to play.

“We’re going to do what’s best for Justin,” O’Connell told Vikings reporters. “And make sure we give him the treatment and plan that is a big-picture positive for him.”

It seems doubtful that playing at Soldier Field six days later fits that plan.

If Jefferson sits out, it would signify a remarkable turn of fortune for the Bears, whose defensive backs seem to finally be getting healthy after weeks of playing second- and third-stringers.

“You have to prepare as if he’s going to play … ” coach Matt Eberflus said of Jefferson. “One of the most dynamic receivers in the league, so you’ve always got to prepare for that.”

No player in football — non-Aaron Rodgers Division — has hurt the Bears more over the past three-plus seasons than the Vikings’ star. In six career games against the Bears, Jefferson has totaled 41 catches, 585 yards and two touchdowns. That’s 268 more yards than the next-closest receiver, Packers-turned-Raiders standout Davante Adams, has gained against the Bears since 2020. No one else has half as many yards as Jefferson.

Eberflus pointed to Jefferson’s combination of power and fluidity as what makes him special. The Vikings know how to milk it. In four of his six games against the Bears, Jefferson has played between 92 and 100% of his team’s snaps.

“How they keep him on the move and they do a really good job with him,” he said. “He’s strong through the catch point. Just a very dynamic player — one of the best in the league at that position.”

The Bears’ health concerns in the defensive backfield seem to be subsiding. Jaquan Brisker played 91% of the Bears’ snaps Thursday, one day after hurting his hamstring. Fellow safety Eddie Jackson hasn’t practiced since hurting his foot in Week 2, and Jaylon Johnson hasn’t since hurting his hamstring in Week 3.

Johnson told WSCR-AM on Friday that he is “for sure” going to play Sunday. Eberflus said that “everything’s looking good” with Johnson and Jackson but refused to offer clarity until Wednesday’s injury report.

The Bears cleared slot cornerback Kyler Gordon to return to practice Monday, opening up a path for him to play Sunday at Soldier Field. Gordon broke his hand in the season opener and had surgery a few days later.

Gordon’s return would be a boon for a struggling Bears defense. Only the pitiful Broncos have allowed more than the Bears’ 7.7 net passing yards per play. No one has given up more than the Bears’ 1,430 passing yards.

The slot cornerback position is considered the fulcrum of Eberflus’ defense. With Gordon out, the Bears played Josh Blackwell in the spot and, when he was hurt, turned to Greg Stroman. Eberflus has even left linebacker Jack Sanborn on the field on passing downs in Some instances.

“Kyler is a good player, dynamic player in there at nickel, does a lot of things for us,” Eberflus said. “That position, if done right, enables us to play various coverages, to pressure players and do a lot of different things with him.

“He was on his way, had a great camp. We were really excited about him starting the year and then he got hurt the first game. So we’ve been trying to put people in there… It’s going to be really good to get him back so we can be more consistent with our defensive alignment.”

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