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Living in the moment, Josh Dobbs passes another test

Josh Dobbs put together a spectacular second start in win over Saints -- this time with a full week to prepare.

MINNEAPOLIS — A week after Josh Dobbs came off the bench to lead the Minnesota Vikings to victory against the Atlanta Falcons, the new quarterback is still learning his way around. When he arrived at US Bank Stadium for his first home game, a security guard had to point him in the direction of the home locker room. Earlier in the week he rode the elevator at his hotel with several former Vikings players and, well, he didn’t know who they were.

Dobbs found time to move out of his hotel and into an apartment but every other waking moment was spent inside TCO Performance Center. His endless cram session did not end last week when he arrived on a Tuesday and learned just enough to win on a Sunday. In fact, it was just beginning. Wes Phillips said in the lead up to Vikings-Saints that the offensive coaching staff felt that dumbing down the game plan for Dobbs would leave him without the tools at his disposal to win again.

“I'm not paid by the hour, so I have nowhere else to be,” Dobbs said. “So I did spend a lot of time at the facility. I probably ate almost every meal, every day there. Which is fine, man. I'm blessed to be in the position I am. I'm grateful for this opportunity. So no stone will not be turned over whether it's growing in the offense, creating simulated reps in the facility or studying the defenses we're going to play.”

Everyone accepted that what happened in Atlanta was a once-in-a-decade type of event that could not be repeated. So they put everything on Dobbs’ plate against the Saints and he passed every test with flying colors, going 23-for-34 with 268 yards through the air, 44 on the ground and zero interceptions in a 27-19 victory.

“He had a fantastic week of practice, Wednesday and Friday, you would have thought he had been in our offense a lot longer than just the previous five days leading into last week’s game,” head coach Kevin O’Connell said. “He attacked the game plan, how we prepare our guys, how we teach them about, you know, coverages and fronts and pressures and what we’re trying to attack. And he handled a full game plan today.”

Josh Dobbs

Nov 12, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joshua Dobbs (15) passes to tight end T.J. Hockenson (87) against the New Orleans Saints in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Dobbs was dialed in from the outset, producing points on four of the Vikings’ first five drives. By halftime he racked up 220 passing yards with a 123.5 passer rating and the Vikings led 24-3. He mentioned that as he was warming up to take the field for his first drive, quarterbacks coach Chris O’Hara came over to him and told him to stop for a moment and take in the atmosphere before he went to work.

He showed a different type of poise than in Atlanta. When he was thrown into the mix without any practice reps, it was a pure fight or flight response. Survive and advance. Some of it was ugly and crazy but it didn’t matter. This time it was precise and surgical, even when he went off schedule. On third down at the goal line with a chance to go up two scores in the second quarter, Dobbs sat in the pocket, looked scanned, scanned, scanned and then turned back to his left, swooped out of the pocket, juked a tackler Lamar Jackson style and celebrated in the end zone. He explained how he made the decision to escape.

“I went through my entire progression,” Dobbs explained. “They were in two-high shell and did a good job covering guys up. The [middle linebacker] took my first progression, the [weakside linebacker] took my second, and the safeties kind of exited out the back-end line throws….then when the opportunity presented itself, to be able to utilize my legs and make plays.”

As Dobbs rolled into the end zone, O’Connell turned to the crowd with his arms up as if to say, “are you not entertained?”

On the final drive of the half, in which Dobbs covered 76 yards in just 1:31 seconds, he started to escape for a run and then spotted TJ Hockenson coming open. Rather than scoot out of bounds, he calmly dropped the ball over the defender for a big gain. Then later in the drive, he threw a touchdown to Hockenson. On that play, he checked with one of his coaches on the sideline to ask where he should go with the football against a certain look. When they got the look, he pulled the trigger and bang 24-3 lead.

“I literally just asked on the sideline, ‘hey, if we get this look, what are we thinking?’” Dobbs said. “Just to confirm that my eyes are going to be in the right place. So we ended up getting the right look. T.J. did a good job of getting vertical and running to that open area. Because it's tough. The [middle linebacker] has to run back there, he's got the middle of the field, two safeties. They're usually in that defense to prevent you to take shots, especially down the seam. So for him to be open, get into that little seam, and for me to put the ball over, it was a huge play.”

Entering the game, the Saints were not a friendly group to opposing quarterbacks. They led the NFL in interceptions via a talented secondary and pressure from a violent defensive line. Yet the Vikings had receivers open and the rush barely touched Dobbs, sacking him just once and hitting him only four times.

It can’t go understated the performances around Dobbs that have allowed the Vikings to go 2-0 and push themselves into the heat of the NFC race. The offensive line giving him time to go through progressions. Hockenson finishing with 134 yards. Jalen Nailor returning to the lineup to take a significant number of snaps. The defense forcing later turnovers to preserve the lead and justify O’Connell’s decision to play ultra conservative in the second half.

There is something about Dobbs that fits perfectly with a team that has needed to display resilience when they could have gone off the cliff at any time. Whether it was against the 49ers when the whole world was picking San Francisco to win or holding the lead in Green Bay after Kirk Cousins tore his Achilles or last week when the Falcons scored late and they needed a game-winning drive, the Vikings have dug in deep to escape their early-season hole despite injuries to their star QB and top receiver.

“The sky was never falling to those guys in that locker room,” O’Connell said. “I can remember vividly standing in front of them the Monday after we did go 0-3 and I can remember the message was I felt all of us together included working forward to accomplish something special was one of the greatest opportunities we would have professionally….I am of the belief that we can continue to go out and write our own story. And we're holding the pen.”

As with the team bouncing back from 0-3, Dobbs is rewriting his career story. He spent most of his time in the NFL as a backup and the starting opportunity he received in Arizona this year was with a rebuilding team that traded its best wide receiver. It wasn’t even clear when he arrived if he would ever play for the Vikings with Jaren Hall getting the start in Atlanta and now he’s looking at an opportunity ahead to lead his team to the postseason.

But what Dobbs proved on Sunday, despite everything that screamed “letdown game” about the Saints coming to town, was that even while he’s taking it the moment he does not appear to feel the gravity of the situation.

“I'm taking it in stride,” Dobbs said. “What I like to say is, ‘I'm exactly where my feet are.’ I'm not thinking too far ahead, thinking in the past, I'm thinking right here. I'm taking it in one practice at a time, one meeting at a time, one day at a time. Because this is a lot of fun. This is definitely a lot of fun and I'm enjoying every single second of it.”