If there’s one thing that we learned from the Vikings’ 31-28 win over Atlanta on Sunday, it’s that winning - in the NFL - is actually very easy, and anyone can do it.
Consider that the Vikings started a rookie quarterback who was not expected to play a snap this year, on the road… and when he went down with a concussion, they were forced to play a quarterback that they’d traded virtually nothing for, a quarterback who’d been turfed out by a 1-7 team that is tanking, who hadn’t taken a single snap in practice yet and who admitted after the game that he didn’t know the full names of most of his receivers (though, given that he’s an engineer and given what I know of engineers, I’m not sure we should expect him to ever learn other people’s names).
Consider also that they started the game without their left tackle and All-Pro wide receiver, and during the game they lost their best running back and their third-best wide receiver and, for stretches, their starting tight end.
By the end of the night, all three quarterbacks that started the season on the roster were hurt, plus four other starters on the offense, and the team was staring down a four-point deficit with just two minutes to go, on the road, against a team that was leading its division. And their new quarterback, Josh Dobbs, had already taken a safety and lost two inexplicable fumbles, a real throwback to the Daunte Culpepper days.
Of course Dobbs drove them down the field in 90 seconds and threw the game-winning touchdown pass. Why wouldn’t he? Winning is easy!
We do have to give a lot of credit to head coach Kevin O’Connell here, who had the unenviable task of trying to translate everything to Dobbs on the helmet radio, such that Dobbs had a chance in heck of both calling the play in the huddle, and actually knowing what was about to happen on every play.
Dobbs suggested that this was like trying to take an AP French exam when you’ve only attended AP Spanish classes all year, with a translator in your headset. O’Connell has deserved a lot of criticism this year, mostly for a number of delay-of-game penalties where the play call hasn’t gotten to Cousins, so he deserves credit for this one too.
This win was a reminder that there are two cheat codes in the NFL, one an in-game cheat code and one an overall cheat. The overall cheat code is to find a quarterback who’s very good as a rookie; not having to pay a quarterback $50 million per year means that the money can go to the rest of the roster, and remains about the only way you can build an NFL team without having to cover a few major holes in the lineup.
The in-game cheat code, though, is having a quarterback who can avoid pressure and run. In today’s NFL, with defensive backs’ inability to make almost any kind of contact with receivers, there are basically two possible defensive choices: drop eight players into pass coverage, or blitz (or better yet, sack the quarterback with only four linemen). Either way, the goal is to pressure the quarterback into making a bad throw, or no throw at all.
When the quarterback can run away, can avoid the extra pressure or run underneath, it feels almost like cheating. Kirk Cousins couldn’t do it basically ever, so watching Dobbs whirl away and break tackles and sprint to convert long third downs - or score a touchdown! - felt like watching the Vikings finally join the cheat crew.
Dobbs led all rushers in the game, dashing for 66 yards and a touchdown. His passing was inconsistent (though he did throw two touchdowns), he had the two goofy fumbles, but he made a whole bunch of key plays.
Somehow, Minnesota has now won four games in a row. If the playoffs started today, they’d be in the playoffs. Their next three games, before their bye week, are a home game against 4-5 New Orleans, a road game against 3-5 Denver, and a home game against 2-7 Chicago.
Everybody’s still hurt, of course, so maybe this week was just one of those miracles that happen sometimes. But right now, somehow, despite everything, things are looking up.
Monday: WOLVES vs Boston, 7pm, BSN
Tuesday: WILD at New York Islanders, 6:30pm, BSN
Wednesday: WOLVES vs New Orleans, 7pm, BSN
Thursday: WILD at New York Rangers, 6pm, BSN
WILD at Buffalo, 6pm, BSN
WOLVES at San Antonio, 7pm, BSN
VIKINGS vs New Orleans, noon, FOX
WILD vs Dallas, 5pm, BSN
WOLVES at Golden State, 7:30pm, BSN