Just prior to making his debut as the emergency quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, Josh Dobbs found himself in a hurried meeting with the offensive line. His new teammates were eager to acquaint him with the five primary cadences they’d utilized during the season, a conversation usually reserved for the first day of training camp.
Dobbs, who had been acquired from the Arizona Cardinals just days before, hadn’t received a single practice repetition with the Vikings’ offense throughout the week. Up until Sunday, he hadn’t thrown a single pass to any of their receivers or taken a snap from center Garrett Bradbury. In fact, he admitted to not even knowing the majority of his new teammates’ full names.
However, Dobbs was thrust into action after rookie starter Jaren Hall suffered a first-quarter concussion on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, ultimately delivering one of the most remarkable stories of the NFL season. Despite a slow start, Dobbs rallied the Vikings to a thrilling 31-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
His 6-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brandon Powell with just 22 seconds left capped an 11-play, 75-yard game-winning drive, in which he also contributed a crucial 22-yard scramble to convert a fourth-and-7.
“In this league,” Dobbs remarked, “there is never an excuse for your circumstances. I learned that from Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. Usually, people don’t care about your circumstances. They just want to see you succeed given the circumstances you’ve been given.”
The fact that Dobbs was even wearing a Vikings uniform on Sunday showcased the increasingly bizarre nature of the Vikings’ season. They had lost their starting quarterback, Kirk Cousins, to a torn right Achilles tendon the previous week, and with backup Nick Mullens on injured reserve due to a back injury, Hall was the sole healthy quarterback on the active roster.
During the practice week, all the reps were dedicated to Hall to prepare him for his first NFL start. Coach Kevin O’Connell instructed Dobbs to approach his own preparation as if the Vikings were playing on a Thursday night, with condensed play installations and shorter, lighter practices.
As a seasoned NFL journeyman over the past seven seasons, Dobbs had experience with quick turnarounds. In 2022, he made his first start with the Tennessee Titans just eight days after signing with them. The Cardinals had also acquired him in August and started him in their first regular-season game in September. However, it was nothing compared to the challenge he faced on Sunday.
Dobbs had observed Hall practice the play that led to Powell’s game-winning catch but had never executed it himself. O’Connell transitioned the offense into an up-tempo, no-huddle approach to allow for more coaching through the headset before the speaker cutoff at 15 seconds on the play clock, as mandated by NFL rules.
O’Connell described the instructions he provided to Dobbs, from drop-back details to concept explanations, all the way to the last-minute reminders. He also asked Bradbury to monitor protection calls for Dobbs.
During the huddle, skill players confirmed their routes and positions on the field as Dobbs sought clarification. The Vikings had called a timeout just before the pass to Powell, giving O’Connell the chance to use a play specifically designed for that moment.
According to Powell, the Vikings had adopted the play after seeing its success when the Detroit Lions used it against the Falcons in Week 3. When the Falcons deployed the same defense (Cover 4), the Vikings knew it was the right call.
Dobbs may have lost two fumbles and was sacked for safety, but he ultimately completed 20 of 30 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. He also led the team with 66 rushing yards on seven scrambles, all while key players like Cousins, Justin Jefferson, K.J. Osborn, Christian Darrisaw, and Cam Akers were sidelined.
“It was like an ugly, awesome game,” said Bradbury.
Dobbs entered the game with a 1-9 record as an NFL starter, having played for the Steelers, Titans, and Cardinals, as well as spending time with the Browns, Lions, and Jaguars. He may not officially get credit in the record book for Sunday’s win since Hall started the game, but he won’t soon forget the experience. Dobbs likened last week to “taking AP Spanish all year, and now somebody tells you you’re going to take the AP French exam.”
What made the day even more special was that it happened in Dobbs’ hometown; he graduated from Alpharetta (Ga.) High School. When a local reporter asked O’Connell if that added an extra layer of significance, O’Connell confessed, “This may surprise you, but I just met him a few days ago, and I didn’t know that. You just gave me something to talk to our new quarterback about.”