MINNEAPOLIS — You have to hand it to Josh Dobbs. He was considerate enough to serve the New Orleans Saints an appetizer before delivering the main course.
Both dishes were handed out by the Minnesota Vikings quarterback in the first half of Sunday’s 27-19 victory. The first arrived early in the second quarter.
Dobbs dropped back to pass. The Saints attacked him with four men, but he kept calm, surveying the field. The Saints closed his windows quickly. After a few seconds of examining, Dobbs decided it was time to find an escape hatch. He noticed one on the right side of the pocket, and, while scrambling to safety, nearly stumbled to the turf. Somehow, he kept his footing. He kept his eyes downfield and located tight end T.J. Hockenson for a gain of 24 yards. The completion earned applause from the U.S. Bank Stadium crowd of 66,933.
The Vikings scored two plays later to take a 10-3 lead.
Hors d’oeuvres finished about eight minutes of game time later. That’s when Dobbs did the most damage. Before the snap of a third-and-6 from the Saints’ 7-yard line, Dobbs deciphered the two-high safety coverage. After the snap, he planted his back foot, climbed the pocket and focused on the end zone. No receiver sprang free, so it was time for Dobbs’ dexterity to shine. He retreated in the pocket, then spun around to the left and juked his way into the end zone for an incredible touchdown scramble.
Coach/sous-chef Kevin O’Connell looked on in disbelief.
“I like to fist-pump with the best of them,” O’Connell said afterward. “But that was one where I was kind of just, like, wow.”
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) November 12, 2023
Following the touchdown run, which put Minnesota (6-4) up two touchdowns, O’Connell turned and looked upward. Maybe he wanted to see the crowd’s reaction. Or maybe he wanted to offer a thank you.
Vikings hold off Saints comeback to win
For the second straight season, even with the team in a completely different circumstance, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and the Vikings front office made a savvy move at the trade deadline. Last year, they acquired tight end T.J. Hockenson, who immediately impacted the offense and spurred further explosiveness for superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson. This year, Adofo-Mensah landed Dobbs, who through two weeks has not just kept the Vikings’ playoff chances alive but been arguably the league’s most exciting player.
Smart coaching and locker room cohesiveness have contributed to the success of Hockenson and Dobbs — and to the Vikings’ current five-game win streak. Adofo-Mensah, though, who has been frequently dinged for the struggles of his 2022 draft class, consummated deals for both players without moving a premium draft pick.
“I mean, it’s clearly a fantastic move,” Vikings safety Harrison Smith said Sunday of the Dobbs deal.
Like multiple Vikings players, Smith knew Dobbs before the trade. They had worked out together in Knoxville, Tenn., and Smith noticed Dobbs’ ability to engage with others. He knew what Adofo-Mensah did when he acquired Dobbs.
“He’s a hard worker, he prepares, he elevates guys around him and he’s an exceptional athlete,” Smith said. “That’s a pretty good recipe.”
New Orleans knows that now. Dobbs amassed 44 yards on eight carries against them. The elusiveness left such an impression that teammates were rehashing moments from the 7-yard touchdown scramble in the locker room.
As left tackle Christian Darrisaw watched Dobbs dart toward the pylon, he thought, “This is sick.”
Replaying the scenes in his mind, T.J. Hockenson said, “It’s a little like streetball, which is fun.”
In that vein, for the second straight week, Dobbs was in “game-breaker” mode. Not only were his legs churning, but his arm was alive. He completed 23-of-34 passes for 268 yards. His one touchdown to Hockenson came with 16 seconds left in the first half.
Dobbs deciphered the Saints’ coverage pre-snap; defenders positioned themselves in a two-deep safety look. But Dobbs was ready. On the sideline before the play, he had asked the Vikings staff, Where should I go with the football if the Saints play this specific coverage?
Hockenson will leak over the middle of the field and split the safeties, the coaches said.
Dobbs trusted their advice. He watched as Hockenson raced up the left seam, faked left, then darted back to the right into a pocket of open space between the hashes. Dobbs feathered a pace over the middle. Hockenson snagged it, then bounced off of a defender and into the end zone.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) November 12, 2023
“That’s a (Kevin O’Connell) special,” Hockenson said. “We get an option to freelance a little bit. And so, I saw what the safety (was) doing and tried to lean him a little bit and separated. Josh put it right over the backer. Just a dime. When you have balls like that, it’s pretty easy.”
With Jefferson still sidelined, the tight end was the workhorse in the passing game, finishing the day with 11 catches (on 15 targets) for 134 yards and the touchdown.
Making Sunday’s performance even more impressive is the fact that Hockenson could barely move during the week due to a rib injury. Friday, he stood at his locker inside the TCO Performance Center and tugged on his stomach. Brown gauze held in place an ice pack that wrapped around his entire upper body. Like a kid tearing off a Band-Aid, Hockenson winced, pulled a little, winced harder and then pulled again.
Right tackle Brian O’Neill, who is locker mates with Hockenson, saw the pain his teammate was dealing with and, early in the week, doubted Hockenson would play. In the aftermath of Sunday, O’Neill said, “You want to play with guys like that. And you want to do the same when it’s your turn to go through the s—.”
Similar sentiments flowed through the team meeting room Saturday night before the game. Vikings coaches lead the meetings, and the players respond. The overall theme this week? Belief. That Dobbs would do his thing. That the defense would force two turnovers like it did Sunday, securing two interceptions.
“It’s a very cohesive place to play right now,” O’Neill said.
The front office is at least partially to thank for that fact. Specific to the trade deadline, which stands as the last real opportunity for decision-makers to improve their team, Kwesi has cooked.
(Top photo: Adam Bettcher / Getty Images)
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