Benjamin St-Juste showed promise in battle vs. Vikings' Justin Jefferson

St-Juste showed promise in battle vs. Vikings' star Jefferson originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson is arguably the NFL's best player at his position. And on Sunday, it looked like the third-year wideout was primed for a huge day against the Washington Commanders' secondary after Minnesota's first offensive drive.

On the Vikings' opening possession, Jefferson caught four passes for 48 yards including a nine-yard touchdown. Commanders cornerback Benjamin St-Juste, a second-year veteran, was the nearest defender on three of those passes, including the six-pointer. St-Juste had excellent coverage on all three of those plays, but Jefferson simply got the better of him early on.

After a rough start, St-Juste didn't hang his head. And from that point forward, the Commanders' defensive back did an admirable job against one of the league's elite pass-catchers.

"I thought he fought and battled his butt off and did the best he could," head coach Ron Rivera said Monday on St-Juste's performance. "And the truth of the matter is we feel pretty comfortable and pretty good about him."

After hauling in four grabs on the opening drive, Jefferson caught just three passes for the remainder of the game -- only one with St-Juste as the primary defender in coverage. Minnesota continued to test St-Juste throughout the afternoon, but the second-year pro battled back tremendously.

The Vikings -- who had an NFL-worst minus-73 point differential in the final four minutes of halves in 2021 -- have been one of the NFL's best scoring teams in that department this year. On Sunday, Minnesota -- already leading 7-3 -- had the chance to add to its lead just before the break, too.

With 14 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Kirk Cousins spotted Jefferson in single coverage against St-Juste on the outside and took the chance. St-Juste had perfect coverage on the play and tipped Cousins' pass in the air, which landed in the hands of Danny Johnson for a crucial interception that saved at least three points.

Early in the fourth quarter with Minnesota trailing by 10, Cousins had Jefferson 1-on-1 against St-Juste once again on the outside on a critical third down. St-Juste, who was hand-fighting with Jefferson throughout the route, intercepted the pass and returned it for a touchdown, but referee Jerome Boger's crew called pass interference on the play.

Rivera was upset about the penalty when it happened, a feeling he still had Monday morning when speaking with reporters.

"I don't agree necessarily agree with the pass interference called on him," Rivera said. "I’m asking for an explanation and interpretation, just so we can go forward with it."

"It definitely hurts," St-Juste said postgame. "I was about to get my first interception -- and for six."

St-Juste responded nicely by sacking Cousins on the very next play. But, had the cornerback not been flagged for pass interference, his pick-six likely seals a victory for Washington.

Then, just three snaps after the penalty, Jefferson was able to get the better of Washington's cornerback. On third-and-7 from Minnesota's own 41-yard line, Jefferson lined up in the slot and ran past St-Juste on a deep fade route for 47 yards. The big play ultimately led to a Greg Joseph field goal, one that trimmed Washington's lead to just seven.

The final rep between Jefferson and St-Juste came late in the fourth quarter with the game tied. Minnesota faced third-and-goal from the four-yard line when Cousins looked for his No. 1 receiver, who was once again marked by St-Juste. This battle went the cornerback's way, as St-Juste was able to knock down the pass.

The pass breakup forced a Vikings field goal attempt, but Commanders defensive tackle John Ridgeway was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play. The Vikings, given a fresh set of downs due to the penalty, were able to milk the clock all the way to 12 seconds before knocking through the eventual game-winning field goal.

Although the Commanders ended up falling to Minnesota, St-Juste's effort against Jefferson showed the cornerback's incredible potential moving forward.

"I'm glad I didn't let the first drive get to me," St-Juste said. "That's one of the hardest things to do at our position. You can have a great game all the way up until the fourth quarter but if you give up a touchdown, then you're the worst player ever. Or, you can make bad plays in the first quarter and get down on yourself like 'I can't play with those type of guys.' I didn't let that get to my head. I went out there, and made some more plays."

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At 6-foot-3, St-Juste has excellent size to be physical with wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. But the cornerback also has good speed and quickness to guard smaller receivers -- his versatile skill set is among the reasons Washington moved St-Juste to nickel this offseason (he began the season as the team's slot cornerback but has since shifted to the outside following the benching and eventual departure of William Jackson III).

Following the game, St-Juste made such to approach Jefferson to show his appreciation and respect for the Vikings' star receiver.

"I went to see him after that game and I was like, 'Appreciate that. That was great work. You made me better.' And likewise, respect goes both ways," he said.

St-Juste's outing on Sunday started off tough, but the way he bounced back against one of the NFL's best deserves a ton of credit. There's still plenty of room for growth for the second-year corner, but most of Week 9's contest against Jefferson and the Vikings showed just how high a ceiling St-Juste could have at the NFL level.