“What’s up, everybody? My name is Josh Dobbs. I’m the quarterback for Minnesota. I wanted to introduce myself to everyone.”
That’s how new Minnesota Vikings quarterback Josh Dobbs started his post-game press conference after his team beat the Atlanta Falcons, 31-28 on Sunday. Not the way you expect any quarterback to start a presser, but in Dobbs’ case, he may have felt that an introduction was necessary. After Kirk Cousins suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon in Week 8 against the Green Bay Packers, head coach Kevin O’Connell’s plan was to start fifth-round rookie Jalen Hall against Atlanta. But Hall was concussed early in the game, and Dobbs — who the Vikings traded for on Tuesday from the Arizona Cardinals — had to come in and try to get something done.
Dobbs isn’t the first quarterback to have to paly with a new team with very little ramp-up time, but what he was able to do against a generally game Falcons defense was truly exceptional. With less than a week to acclimate to his new offense, Dobbs didn’t have time to learn the Vikings’ cadences and protections. And it wasn’t as if the Vikings had any other options — running back Cam Akers, who was Minnesota’s emergency quarterback, suffered his own Achilles injury against the Falcons. O’Connell, who played for the 2008 New England Patriots and had six passing attempts, may have had to suit up if anything happened to Dobbs.
And it wasn’t just Akers who was out. Left tackle Christian Darrisaw was inactive with a groin injury. Receiver Justin Jefferson was still out with his hamstring injury, and receiver K.J. Osborn suffered a concussion in the Falcons game, and tight end T.J. Hockenson was playing through a rib injury.
Dobbs could and would have been excused for a disastrous performance under the circumstances, and there were early moments in which it looked as if things would fall apart. But Dobbs did an amazing job of getting it together, assisted by O’Connell and his staff, and a 31-28 Vikings win was the result.
“To Josh’s credit, it wasn’t as much as you would probably imagine, but we did condense down and create some things that we knew he would be comfortable with,” O’Connell said, when asked how much he had to water down his playbook for the new guy. “And his dialogue with [quarterbacks coach] Chris [O’Hara] and [assistant to the head coach/special projects] Grant [Udinski] that maybe wasn’t up on his initial game plan, but we can trust our guys to go execute.
“The no-huddle allowed us to settle everybody down and let me talk to him and give him some coaching points on the fly. That’s why you have those things on your offense. Once again, none of that is possible if he can’t come in here and – snap counts and formations and knowing where guys go and where guys are going to be when the ball hits his hands. Not to mention we’re playing against what I believe to be one of the better defenses we’ve played all season at home in the noise. I hope people understand that what Josh Dobbs was able to accomplish was very, very special, and I’m really proud of him.”
Dobbs completed 20 of 30 passes for 158 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 101.8. But the stats aren’t the story here — let’s get to the tape, and how the Vikings pulled off this
Things did not go well early.
Dobbs’ first snap came with 14:53 left in the second quarter, and it ended three plays later, when Falcons defensive lineman Calais Campbell bombed him for a sack/safety.
— CJ Fogler account may or may not be notable (@cjzero) November 5, 2023
Dobbs’ second drive ended with 7:45 left in the second quarter, when Arnold Ebiketie sacked him, and Lorenzo Carter returned the ball to the Minnesota one-yard line. The Falcons only got a field goal out of that because head coach Arthur Smith was making his usual weird red zone calls, but that put Atlanta up, 11-3.
“He pretty much got thrown in the fire,” Jordan Addison said of his new quarterback. “But he’s a veteran and as y’all can see, he did his thing. Played breaking down, using his legs, scrambling all over the place and just delivering good balls under pressure.”
That started on Dobbs’ third drive.
Once Dobbs found his feet, you saw how he could use them.
Dobbs’ third drive was a 13-play, 75-yard journey that ended with a two-yard touchdown pass to running back Alexander Mattison.
Dobbs, who also finished his day as the Vikings’ leading rusher with 66 yards and a touchdown on seven carries, had two timely third-quarter scrambles. It was clear that O’Connell had him on a one-read-and-go plan (not much else to do with so little time), and on this 18-yard dodge with 2:29 left in the third quarter, Dobbs maximized the philosophy that if you don’t like what you see, start running.
The game-winning touchdown was a fascinating work of art.
With 27 seconds left in the game, and the Falcons up 28-24, Dobbs made the game-winning throw to receiver Brandon Powell, who hadn’t had a touchdown reception since the 2020 season, when he was with the Falcons. This was a case of head coach, quarterback, and receiver working together when none of them had any time to prepare for this situation.
“That play was in the playbook, it was in our red zone install for this week, that was my first time repping the play, like how it was in the game plan,” Dobbs said. “I told the coaches—I said, they’re asking me my comfort level with everything and the playbook and how I felt with before the game leading up to if something were to happen, I said ‘Anything on this call sheet that we solved this week, I got it. I can run it, I got it, whether it’s no-huddle, whether it’s tempo, whether it’s our game plan call—whatever it is I got it.’ Then they started pulling stuff from OTA one and two, I might be a little handcuffed out there but if you put it on the call sheet, I got it. Those were one of our red zone plays where we take advantage of the looks the defense was giving and [Powell] did a great job getting open for me.”
This was a 2×2 set with Mattison releasing from an inside clip, and Powell in the left slot. Powell reacted to cornerback Mike Hughes eyeing Dobbs in the pocket, and adjusted his route outside and under safety Jessie Bates III. Powell wasn’t Dobbs’ first read — it looked like Dobbs was reading receiver Trishton Jackson to the right outside first, as Jackson had motioned across. When the Jackson opening wasn’t there, Dobbs turned to Powell (who, by the way, was playing through cramps), and that was that.
“It’s a slow read passing,” O’Connell told Albert Breer of The MMQB. “It requires details with your feet and your eyes and your understanding of what we’re trying to attack, how your feet and eyes work together to help that happen, and then to trust in it—despite never having a single rep doing it before in this system.”
“I think I threw a couple to him in pregame warmups, so we were able to get on a little rhythm in pregame warmups,” Dobbs said of Powell. “I think I missed him on a throw because the route he was running in my head was different from the route he was running in this offense. I said, ’Yeah, that’s why I threw it like that,’ because in the game when something happens, I’m going to throw it and want to see where you’re going to be to make sure we’re on the same page.
“Just being able to react, man – the communication was awesome. Obviously, given the circumstances – not having any reps out there – the way they were able to respond and communicate to me how I can be better, I was able to communicate what I was seeing. From there, we were just able to go out and play good team football. That’s what it takes every Sunday to piece together wins in the NFL. If we keep doing that, man, we’ll hit our stride and be all right.”
Dobbs' journeyman status made him uniquely prepared for this.
Since the start of the 2022 season, Dobbs has been with (deep breath) the Cleveland Browns, The Detroit Lions, the Tennessee Titans, the Cleveland Browns (again), the Cardinals, and now, the Vikings. Last season, with the Titans, he started against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17 with very little preparation. He began the 2023 season as the Cardinals’ starter with Kyler Murray injured, and he had been traded from the Browns in August. Dobbs has rarely been spectacular, but he’s been a more than serviceable reliever for a long time, and there’s value in that.
Dobbs spoke to that after this win when asked about starting for a new team without any first-team reps.
“Yeah, last year in Tennessee — we had a couple of first-team reps. We played on a Thursday. We played on Saturday then a Thursday game, so a quick turnaround late in the season — second to last week in the season. I didn’t get a ton of reps, but we at least got two walkthroughs and a chance to communicate and get on the same page. This one was kind of like learn as you go, hair on fire, hold onto your seat, but guys were able to respond.
“Obviously, being in a similar situation allowed me to not be too prideful and communicate when I don’t know what’s going on, but also tell the coaches what I need to be successful. They were able to respond, so it was a team effort. I think, obviously, my teammates, but also the coaches just putting together extra time and hours – obviously, when you’re getting a rookie ready to play, a lot of time goes into that.
“Also, a guy you just traded for – getting him ready to play. Hopefully he doesn’t play, but also, just in case he does play, putting the extra time and effort into it when you’re already putting hours into it goes a long way. I appreciate the support I had all week to prepare me to be able to make the most of the situation.”
What does this mean for Dobbs' future?
You may think of Dobbs as more of a conservator than a YOLO guy given the aforementioned journeyman status, but a look at his Cardinals tape shows a quarterback equally capable of big plays and head-scratching decisions.
It’s too early to say what Dobbs’ future and status in Minnesota will be, but given the chemistry that’s always there, and Dobbs’ comfort in O’Connell’s offense (which is as good as any in the NFL at creating designed opening for quarterbacks), maybe this is the start of something bigger?
In any event, Dobbs’ start was one of the most remarkable in pro football in a very long time, and that’s why. No time to prepare, an injury-decimated offense, a game-winning receiver who was cramping up in the game, and a defense that was throwing all kinds of stuff at him. No matter how you chop it up, this was a historic performance.