Shades of Buffalo in Wild Comeback Win in Atlanta Led by Amazing Josh Dobbs
There’s a lot to unpack from Sunday’s wild 31-28 comeback win in Atlanta that raised the Vikings over .500 for the first time this season with their fourth straight victory. Let’s start with these thoughts: Vikings seasons are never boring, and Josh Dobbs had an incredible game.
Shades of Buffalo in Wild Comeback Win in Atlanta Led by Amazing Josh Dobbs
The last-minute road win (Vikings are now an impressive 4-1 on the road) was remindful of the Vikings’ thrilling overtime win last season in Buffalo with big plays on offense and defense and game-changing fourth down conversions (Justin Jefferson on 4th-and-18 in Buffalo and Dobbs on 4th-and-7 in Atlanta).
The win over the Falcons culminated in a tumultuous week of quarterback upheaval after Kirk Cousins’ Achilles injury. The Vikings prepared rookie fifth-rounder Jaren Hall all week to be the starter against the Falcons, and he lasted less than a quarter before a concussion on a scramble took him out of the game. Enter Dobbs, who the Vikings traded for on Tuesday, and he had no snaps with the starting offense during his three days at practice last week.
I’ve seen a lot of amazing quarterback performances by Vikings backups over the years, but nothing like Dobbs’ performance when he hardly knew the names of his teammates, much less the complex system of Kevin O’Connell. He used his arm and legs to gut out a crucial victory for his new team, a head-to-head win that will propel the Vikings ahead of the Falcons if the two teams wind up tied for a wildcard playoff spot.
Dobbs’ reputation as a very smart QB definitely was on display with his ability to lead the team to a big win without practice time and having to digest a new system as best he could in short order. Credit also to O’Connell and his assistant coaches for coaching up Dobbs on the fly.
O’Connell was thrilled with Dobbs’ clutch playmaking and ability to lead the team, even after his shaky start with the second quarter safety when he held the ball too long and couldn’t escape, followed by two lost fumbles. But there was so much on the positive side, as O’Connell said, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been part of one like that. I hope people understand what Josh Dobbs was able to accomplish was very, very special.”
Dobbs said postgame, “Tremendous game, team effort. I know obviously the circumstance I was put in was a little abnormal for a Sunday in the NFL. I’m excited to see what the future holds for us, and I’m honored to be in Minnesota and introduce myself to everyone.”
Quite the introduction, Josh!
Here are my other reactions to the Vikings-Falcons game:
1. Dobbs made so many big plays passing and running: the biggest was his amazing escape of a Bud Dupree sack attempt on 4th-and-7 from the Atlanta 34 with 52 seconds left when Dobbs showed his tremendous athleticism and strength to run for 22 yards. It set up the winning 6-yard TD pass to Brandon Powell with 27 seconds remaining.
Dobbs passed for 158 yards and two TDs. He completed the tying two-point conversion to Trishton Jackson in the third quarter on a scramble, and he was the team’s leading rusher with 66 yards on seven carries, including a terrific 18-yard scramble for a third quarter TD. Dobbs had another Houdini act when he escaped the blitz and ran for a first down on 3rd-and-10 down to the Atlanta 2 (with Cam Akers’ making a key block) to set up his 2-yard TD pass on a wisely called (by O’Connell) rollout for the mobile Dobbs to hit Alexander Mattison.
He also got a win in his hometown, which was extra exciting for Dobbs.
2. The biggest difference in the game besides Dobbs outplaying Falcons’ QB Taylor Heinicke was the Vikings’ scoring 11 points off two third quarter turnovers (Akayeb Evans forced fumble by Bijan Robinson with a great recovery in a pile by Josh Metellus) and Byron Murphy’s interception when he made a good play to cut in front of the receiver. Meanwhile, the Falcons could only produce two field goals off the two Dobbs fumbles as the Vikings defense made a stop each time, including a goal-line stand after the first fumble was returned to the Vikings 1 (kudos to Josh Oliver for preventing the TD on the return).
3. The biggest question heading into another important conference game against NFC South leader New Orleans on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium was answered by O’Connell at his media session on Monday. He announced Dobbs will receive all of the first-team reps with the plan to start him against the Saints, who will bring the league’s seventh-ranked defense:
I’d say it was a no-brainer for O’Connell to start Dobbs (with a full week of practice and further learning the offense) over Hall–if he’s cleared from concussion protocol — even though Hall played well in his limited action (5 of 6 for 78 yards including a 47-yard completion to a wide open Mattison that set up Greg Joseph’s first of three field goals). It’s unfortunate for Hall that he missed a wide open T.J. Hockenson in the end zone on the play before he was hurt, or the big hit wouldn’t have happened, and he may have played the entire game.
Other injury-related questions this week: will Justin Jefferson return off IR from his hamstring injury to face a Saints team he torched for 147 yards on 10 catches last season in the Vikings’ 28-25 Week 4 thrilling victory in London? Who saw the Vikings going 4-0 with J.J. on IR?
Will K.J. Osborn be cleared from his concussion sustained in Atlanta on a helmet-to-helmet hit as he made a great grab of a 13-yard pass in traffic for a key first down on the Vikings’ first TD drive in the second quarter?
Brandon Powell deserves praise for stepping in and making big catches, including the game-winner on a great route O’Connell stole from the Lions win over the Falcons in Week 3. And little-used Jackson had a bad drop on a third down play inside the Falcons 10 that forced a field goal instead of a first down and possible TD. But he did make a nice diving catch on the two-point conversion that tied the game 21-21.
Hockenson continued his excellent recent play with seven catches for 69 yards, including a key 29-yard catch and run to set up a third quarter field goal.
The Vikings really missed their excellent left tackle Christian Darrisaw (groin, a late inactive), and his replacement David Quessenberry played okay but struggled at times, including almost allowing Dupree to sack Dobbs on his critical fourth-down run on the final drive. Darrisaw also will help the running game when he returns.
Will Nick Mullens return from IR with his back injury to be the No. 2 QB this week, or will that job go to Hall if he’s recovered, or Sean Mannion from the practice squad?
4. The Vikings run game must improve to support Dobbs: it was awful in the first half against a middle-of-the-pack Atlanta run D (and the Saints are better against the pass — No. 7 — vs. against the run — 17th). Mattison and Akers combined for 1 yard on 11 carries in the first half. Things improved in the second half when the two backs combined for 68 yards on the ground as the Falcons had to respect Dobbs’ dual-purpose ability, and the O-line began to open some holes.
With Akers suffering a torn Achilles late in the game, Ty Chandler must again be the No. 2 back as he was before Akers joined the team. I think the speedy Chandler is a good change of pace from Mattison’s power running, and he’s a good receiving back. Kene Nwangwu was a healthy inactive in Atlanta, and it’s time for him to step up his game. But Akers was the team’s best back the past several weeks, so he will be missed, and it’s unfortunate for him to have the second major Achilles injury of his five-year career.
5. The defense bent but only occasionally broke: O’Connell called the two turnovers in the third quarter “huge.” The second-quarter goal-line stand after Dobbs’ first fumble was impressive, with Danielle Hunter, Jordan Hicks, Cam Bynum, and Metellus combining to stuff Tyler Allgeier for a four-yard loss on third-and-goal to force a field goal. But the defense wore down late as the Falcons ran it 12 straight times on their 13-play, 79-yard, seven-minute drive to take a 28-24 lead with 2:13 left in the game.
Akayleb Evans is still shaky in coverage, but he made two great run stops, including the forced fumble that was a key play.
It will help the D if Marcus Davenport can return in Week 11 at Denver when he can come off IR with his ankle injury.
6. Joseph had a rebound game: it’s a good sign after he struggled the past three games with several missed kicks that Joseph made all five of his kicks, including three relatively short field goals (from 19, 32 and 31 yards and the important final PAT for a three-point lead).
Punter Ryan Wright’s first two punts were excellent before his poor 29-yarder gave the Falcons decent field position to launch their final TD drive. Powell had a nice 24-yard punt return to the Minnesota 40 at the end of the first half, and with nine seconds left at that point, I would’ve liked to see O’Connell try for a 20-yard pass play to set up a long field goal try with the Vikings down 11-10 but he chose a kneel down to end the half.
Jay Ward had another field goal D miscue when he ran into the kicker, which was declined (after lining up offsides twice in earlier games on field goals). He needs to be coached up hard to eliminate these mistakes.
7. Penalty-free Vikings: A contributing factor in the Atlanta win was only one penalty for 4 yards against the Vikings as opposed to the Falcons’ having eight penalties for 62 yards. This followed the win in Green Bay when the Packers had 61 more penalty yards than the Vikings. This is a good pattern to repeat going forward.
8. The Vikings now have a one-game lead for the third wild card spot and are just a half-game behind Seattle and Dallas for the first two wild cards. Minnesota has moved within 1 ½ games of the Lions in the NFC North, and they can lessen that to ½ game if they beat the Saints while the Lions lose to the Chargers in L.A. on Sunday. It’s certainly a great rebound from the Vikings’ 0-3 start.
Around the NFL Observations:
1. Last year’s Super Bowl teams—the Eagles and the Chiefs—had important wins over highly regarded teams. Philly beat Dallas 28-23 with QB Jalen Hurts throwing two TD passes, rushing for one TD, and not turning it over. Dak Prescott continued his strong recent play for Dallas with 374 passing years and three TDs, and he also didn’t have any turnovers. Prescott drove the Cowboys to the Eagles 6 on the final drive, but a penalty and sack set them back before falling just short at game’s end. With the win, the Eagles opened up a 2 ½ game lead over the Cowboys in the NFC East and have the league’s best record at 8-1.
K.C. opened up a 21-0 first-half lead on Miami before hanging on for a 21-14 win in Frankfurt, Germany. Patrick Mahomes threw two TD passes, and Trent McDuffie forced ex-Chief Tyreek Hill to fumble, and Bryan Cook returned it 59 yards for a TD.
How’s this for a great upcoming Monday night game: Philadelphia at Kansas City on November 20?
2. Other big games: the Bengals once again beat the Bills (as they did in last year’s playoffs). With the 24-18 win, the Bengals improved to 5-3 with their fourth straight victory. The AFC North is the NFL’s best division this season, with Baltimore (who crushed Seattle 37-3) leading at 7-2, followed by the Steelers, Browns, and Bengals, who all are 5-3.
I’m back with my Vikings-Saints prediction on Friday in what should be another highly entertaining game for the surging Purple in the renewal of their rivalry with the Saints that includes last year’s win in London, the 52-33 loss in 2020 (Alvin Kamara’s six-TD game) and above all the Vikings’ last two playoff victories—the Minneapolis Miracle in 2017 and the 2019 overtime win in New Orleans.
Vikings Now in the Driver’s Seat
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl