Josh Dobbs: aerospace engineer, career backup and ice-cold winner
YIt takes a genius to learn a new NFL offense and his dozens of plays in five days. Fortunately, Joshua Dobbs is. The quarterback’s academic performance are the stuff of legend and internet medom. He graduated from the University of Tennessee with a perfect grade point average and a degree in aerospace engineering, and instead of moving on to a career in rocket science — for which he would have been more than qualified — he settled into a different life : that of the journeyman backup. Dobbs has been in the league since 2017, when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected him in the fourth round. But the past few weeks have proven to be his big breakthrough.
Dobbs started the year with his seventh franchise in seven seasons of pro ball: the Arizona Cardinals, who will play for little more than an early draft pick next spring. So when the Minnesota Vikings lost starter Kirk Cousins for the year last week with a torn Achilles tendon, they talked to Arizona and struck a deal for Dobbs. That was Tuesday. Dobbs wasn’t expected to play Sunday, but he was called off the bench when Jaren Hall was injured in the first quarter. He provided a masterclass in quick study: Dobbs completed 20 of 30 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns, and despite a few fumbles against the Atlanta Falcons, he brought the Vikings back from the abyss.
He executed a dramatic 11-play, 75-metre drive in the final two minutes to turn the result in the home side’s favour. The most important games were a 22-yard Dobbs scramble on fourth-and-seven and a six-yard touchdown strike to Brandon Powell on third down with 27 seconds left while they trailed by four.
Final score: Vikings 31-28 Valken. Minnesota has a 5-4 record, which sees them still playing meaningful football after an 0-3 start in September and Cousins’ injury in October. Dobbs hadn’t taken a single throw with his receivers in practice before Sunday’s game and admitted he didn’t even know most of their names. This in a competition where spending hours practicing with your teammates is crucial to your chances of success. “What he was able to do in five days was as impressive as anything I’ve seen a quarterback do,” Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell said.
Everyone watching seemed to think the same, except perhaps the QB himself, who told reporters, “People don’t really care about your circumstances.” In an exceptionally challenging challenge, Dobbs delivered results.
To be honest, even Dobbs couldn’t learn everything from his new playbook and focused on the plays he needed to. His famous intellect helped. Dobbs explained after the match that O’Connell was talking him through playcalling in the pre-snap huddle, translating the ins and outs of the playbook verbiage that Dobbs was just days away from conquering. The 28-year-old processed those discussions in the precious seconds before the play clock expired, then turned them into quality play against an NFL defense. When the game became not just about his brain, but also his arm, Dobbs threw all over the field. He went 2-for-2 for 46 yards on passes that went more than 20 yards downfield, according to league recordsand furthermore, he distributed the ball adeptly on short and intermediate routes.
Not every start Dobbs makes will be as magical as this one. But the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and at any given point, many teams have no real hope of getting anywhere close to average play at the position. When Cousins went down, the Vikings thought they were one of those teams. But for now, that’s not the case, and their season still offers hope thanks to a QB who could have done almost everything differently.
MVP of the week
C.J. Stroud, quarterback, Houston Texans. The Texans have their franchise quarterback in Stroud, who arrived at the No. 2 pick in April’s draft and took shockingly little time to become one of the league’s better passers. Stroud’s entire season has been impressive, but the optimism around him will rightly reach a fever pitch after he led a last-minute comeback to defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 39-37. The decisive game was a 15 meter dart to a streaking Nathaniel “Tank” Dell with six seconds left, pulling the Texans from bottom to top – for good. It was Stroud’s fifth touchdown of the day, with no interceptions to count against, and he totaled 470 yards — the most ever in a game by a rookie — on 30 of 42 passing. On the season, he has 14 touchdowns and one interception: you can remove the “rising” from his rising star label.
Statistic of the week
0-3. After Sunday 21-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, which is the Miami Dolphins’ record this season against teams with winning records (they have also lost to the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles). Does this mean they are overrated? Not quite. The Chiefs, Eagles and Bills aren’t teams that have crept over .500; they are all Super Bowl contenders. But the Dolphins have beaten bad teams this season by dominating the middle of the field on offense. That’s something they haven’t been able to do against higher defensive lines like the Chiefs and Eagles. Can Tua Tagovailoa and coach Mike McDaniel make the necessary adjustments? The answer is crucial to Miami’s title chances.
Video of the week
The NFL protects its quarterbacks, sometimes blatantly. An annoying flag for harassing the passer in Sunday’s Washington Commanders-New England Patriots game was a good example. Commander’s defensive end KJ Henry was the unfortunate victim. In exchange for cleanly rounding the edge of the offensive line and taking down Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, an official penalized him 15 yards. Worse, it overturned what would have been his first professional dismissal. However, the cartoonish help from the officials wasn’t enough to swing the result in New England’s favor. Washington won 20-17, and the Patriots fell to 2-7 as their relevance continued to steepen.
Elsewhere in the competition
— The Dallas Cowboys gave the Philadelphia Eagles a good run on Sunday afternoon. The only problem with Dak Prescott’s 23-yard pass to CeeDee Lamb on the final play of the game was that the end zone was 27 yards away, not 23. (Lamb also fumbled while trying to move the ball out of the way.) It was a valiant last-gasp effort against one of the best teams in the NFL, but Philly got just enough from Jalen Hurts to mount a furious defensive effort their 28-23 victory. The Eagles sacked Prescott five times and hit him five more times as they moved to 8-1, the best record in the league. Dallas, now 5-3, missed their best chance to keep the Eagles within reach in the NFC East race.
— The Cincinnati Bengals won their fourth straight game and moved to 5-3, defeating their Sunday Night Football opponents, the 5-4 Buffalo Bills, for the final AFC wild card spot. It also means that all four AFC North teams would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. For the Bengals, a now fully fit Joe Burrow continues to shine, as do his receivers, defense and offensive line. And while there is no shame in it lost 24-18 to the Bengalsthe Bills next face the Denver Broncos, New York Jets and then a tough three-game stretch against the Eagles, Chiefs and Cowboys.
— The Seattle Seahawks looked like one thing when they arrived in Baltimore, and they looked like another after the Ravens were done with it. Seattle took a 37-3 drubbing that dropped their record to 5-3, and Baltimore moved to 7-2 with the kind of dominance that normally requires the opponent to do some deep digging. It was a rushing exhibition for the Ravens. Keaton Mitchell led the charge with nine carries for 138 yards, including one for 60 and another for 40 and a touchdown. Lamar Jackson added 60 yards on 10 runs of his own, and the team averaged better than seven yards on 41 carries. Baltimore had 16 rushing first downs. Seattle had one.
— Dare Ogunbowale has played seven NFL seasons. Entering the week, he totaled 130 carries, 78 receptions, five touchdowns, 21 kick returns and most certainly zero field goals, extra points or other numbers that are not relevant to someone playing running back. But an in-game injury to Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn put Ogunbowale under a lot of pressure in an unusual spot, and he filled his role as an emergency placekicker. (The Texans didn’t use their punter, Cameron Johnston; he sticks to placekicks, and kicking and punting are completely different skills.) The Texans sent out Ogunbowale for a 29-yard field goal in a tied fourth-quarter game, when their fourth and eleventh distance made it untenable for coach DeMeco Ryans. Ogunbowale, who also produced three touchbacks on the kickoff, delivered. That all helped set up Stroud’s exploits.
— The Cleveland Browns opened the day at 35-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, which seemed like a stretch. Yes, the Deshaun Watson injury situation was weird but in his last two full games he has four touchdowns and zero interceptions. They’re far from a title favorite, but with arguably the best defense in the league, the 5-3 Browns just need Watson to be an average quarterback in the league to stay relevant. Sunday 27-0 shutout against the Cardinals was proof of that. The Browns defense smothered the (very limited) opposition, and everything Watson was supposed to be was fine, which he was.
— The New York Giants’ miserable season continues. Their 30-6 defeat to the Las Vegas Raiders sent them to 2-7 and they also lost quarterback Daniel Jones to some the team’s fear is a torn ACL. Jones signed a four-year, $160 million contract with the Giants this offseason. But there is a potential that plays out at the end of next season: Would they go for Drake Maye or Caleb Williams if they end up at the top of next year’s draft?