The Minnesota Vikings, always one of the NFL’s weirdest teams, have somehow added a new, strange wrinkle to their bizarre history: a game-winning drive from the backup to the backup QB.
Joshua Dobbs, who was playing for Arizona as recently as last Saturday, engineered a brilliant last-minute drive to lead the Vikings over the Atlanta Falcons 31-28. It was quite the turnaround for a franchise that, one week ago, had Kirk Cousins under center and dreams of a sprint to the playoffs.
But then Cousins went down with a season-ending Achilles injury, rookie Jaren Hall got the starting nod, and the Vikings dealt for Dobbs, who would be joining his fifth team in the last calendar year. Totally normal stuff.
"I don’t know if I’ve been a part of one like that," Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell said after the game. "What’s inside of each and every guy in that locker room and the feelings they have towards one another, these are the days that cement why you believe what you believe as a coach. I’ll remember this one for a really long time. Everybody in that locker room got a game ball."
Hall got the starting nod, a reasonable play given that Dobbs arrived in Minnesota on Halloween. On his only two series, Hall distributed the ball well enough, completing 5 of 6 passes for 78 yards. His signature play of the day was a 47-yard pass to Alexander Mattison that set up a first-and-goal situation … and then his troubles began.
On a broken play, Hall dashed toward the goal line, but took two shots to the helmet — one from a Falcon, one from the turf when he bounced. He left the game, went to the locker room, and shortly thereafter was ruled out for the day with a concussion.
In came Dobbs, now playing for Minnesota just one week after he had thrown a touchdown pass for the Arizona Cardinals. Deemed expendable by Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon, Dobbs was a welcome acquisition for Minnesota. In a position of weakness given their need, the Vikings saw the price on backups like Jameis Winston and Jacoby Brissett escalate far past Minnesota’s budget. But Dobbs got O’Connell’s approval, who welcomed the deal with a bit of a prophetic moment.
“I’ve always been a fan of the combination of his skillset, from a standpoint of being able to provide some athleticism, make some plays in the pocket and outside the pocket," O'Connell told SiriusXM on Tuesday. "I think he’s a very intelligent guy which gives us the opportunity to get him in here, in a short amount of time, and try to prepare him for any snaps, when that may occur."
This is video of said event on the sideline, going through the cadence with the line, before Dobbs goes into the game. Unreal. pic.twitter.com/Ke3HDRKnSu
— Reggie Wilson (@ReggieWilsonTV) November 5, 2023
That time occurred less than a minute into the second quarter. The Joshua Dobbs era began with disaster: a sack that ended in a safety on Dobbs’ third play in a Vikings uniform.
But soon enough, Dobbs and Minnesota found a rhythm, a combination of opportunism and broken-play magic that rallied the Vikings from a 21-13 deficit to a 24-21 lead midway through the fourth quarter. The highlight play: Dobbs' 18-yard scramble that left all 21 other players on the field confused and Dobbs himself in the end zone with the go-ahead touchdown.
Minnesota’s gassed defense couldn’t hold off Atlanta's final offensive drive, and for a moment, it appeared the Dobbs story would end with a good-job, good-effort. But then Dobbs engineered a 75-yard game-winning drive in just 1:46, a drive punctuated with several of the Vikings receivers keeping the drive alive with magnificent catches. Dobbs iced the game with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Powell, capping one of the unlikeliest comeback victories of the season.
Dobbs finished the day with 20 completions on 30 attempts for 158 yards and two touchdown passes, plus 66 yards rushing — most of any player on either team — and another touchdown.
After the game, it became clear how unlikely this victory was. Local reports indicated that Dobbs hadn't taken a single snap with the first-team offense, and didn't even know the full names of most of his teammates.
Josh Dobbs said he didn't even know some of his teammates' full names today 😂 pic.twitter.com/iWqMb2BDDB
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) November 5, 2023
Going forward, the schedule gives Minnesota the opportunity to pick up some easy wins — well, as easy as any wins can be in the NFL — before turning wicked in the last few weeks. The Vikings draw the Saints, Bears, Broncos and Raiders before closing a run that includes one game against Cincinnati and two against Detroit.
The chances are there for Dobbs, Hall and the Vikings, whoever ends up starting. If Minnesota puts a few more wins together in a weakened NFC, an already odd franchise could record one of its stranger years yet.