Josh Dobbs replaces injured Jaren Hall, leads Vikings' comeback win

ATLANTA -- Just before his first play as the Minnesota Vikings' emergency quarterback, Josh Dobbs joined a quick meeting with the offensive line. His new teammates wanted to make sure he knew the five primary cadences they have used this season, a discussion normally handled on the first day of training camp.

Acquired Tuesday from the Arizona Cardinals, Dobbs did not receive a single rep with the Vikings' offense during the practice week. Before Sunday, he hadn't thrown a practice pass to any of their receivers, nor taken a snap from center Garrett Bradbury. He didn't even know most of their full names, he later admitted.

But Dobbs was thrust into action after rookie starter Jaren Hall suffered a first-quarter concussion Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, going on to produce one of the most unique stories of the NFL season. After a slow start, Dobbs led the Vikings to a rousing 31-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

His 6-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brandon Powell with 22 seconds remaining capped an 11-play, 75-yard game-winning drive, one he aided with a 22-yard scramble to convert a fourth-and-7.

"In this league," Dobbs said, "there is never an excuse for your circumstance. 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 given."

That Dobbs was even in a Vikings uniform Sunday was a testament to the increasingly bizarre nature of the Vikings' season. They lost quarterback Kirk Cousins to a torn right Achilles tendon last week, and with backup Nick Mullens on injured reserve because of a back injury, Hall was the only healthy quarterback on the active roster.

The Vikings left every practice rep to Hall last week to help him prepare to make his first NFL start. Coach Kevin O'Connell told Dobbs to treat his own preparation as if the Vikings were playing on a Thursday night, when play installs are condensed and practices are shortened and lightened considerably.

As a classic NFL journeyman over the past seven seasons, Dobbs had some experience in the kind of quick turnarounds the Vikings were asking him to make. In 2022, he made his first start with the Tennessee Titans eight days after signing with them. The Cardinals, meanwhile, acquired him on Aug. 24 from the Cleveland Browns and started him in their first regular-season game Sept. 10. But none of that compared to what happened Sunday.

He had watched Hall practice the play that led to Powell's winning catch but had never thrown it himself. O'Connell had shifted the offense into an up-tempo, no-huddle look in part because it gave him more time to give Dobbs coaching points through his headset -- before the speaker shut off at 15 seconds on the play clock as mandated by NFL rules.

O'Connell said he was telling Dobbs "what I wanted him to do on his drop, what the concept was going to be, what was going to be on his left, what was going to be on his right [or] a last-minute reminder: 'Don't forget about your legs.'" He asked Bradbury to monitor Dobbs' protection calls and be my "my make-it-right guy." And in the huddle, skill players were confirming their routes and spots on the field to Dobbs when he asked them, receiver Jordan Addison said.

The Vikings had called timeout just before the throw to Powell, allowing O'Connell to get to a play he had installed for exactly that moment. According to Powell, the Vikings had put the play in after seeing it work when the Detroit Lions used it against the Falcons in Week 3. When the Falcons came out in the same defense -- Cover 4 -- the Vikings knew it would work.

"The beauty of it is that with the timeout, we got up to the line of scrimmage and I looked up at the play clock and I see 25 seconds," O'Connell said with a smile. "The worst thing for [Dobbs] is that he has 10 seconds left of my voice.

"I know he's very, very smart but I can tell you that what he was able to do in five days' time is as impressive as what I've seen a quarterback do."

Dobbs lost two fumbles and was sacked for a safety but ultimately completed 20 of 30 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. He also led the team with 66 rushing yards on seven scrambles, and he did so with the Vikings missing not only Cousins and receiver Justin Jefferson, but also receiver K.J. Osborn (concussion), left tackle Christian Darrisaw (groin) and running back Cam Akers (Achilles).

"It was like an ugly, awesome game," Bradbury said.

Dobbs entered the game 1-9 as an NFL starter in stints with the Steelers, Titans and Cardinals. (He has also spent time with the Browns, Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars.)

He won't get credit in the record book for Sunday's win, because Hall started it, but he also won't soon forget it. Dobbs compared last week to "taking AP Spanish all year and now somebody tells you you're going to take the AP French exam."

It all happened in his hometown -- Dobbs is a graduate of Alpharetta (Ga.) High School -- and a local reporter asked O'Connell if that added a level to the significance of what happened. There was one problem.

"This may surprise you," O'Connell said, "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."