Prior to Monday night, the chatter around Joshua Dobbs was whether he'd emerge as a hot free agent and a full-time starting quarterback next season.
After Monday's performance against the Chicago Bears, it's not certain that he'll start the next game for the Minnesota Vikings. Dobbs threw four interceptions in the 12-10 loss and would have thrown a fifth had Jaylon Johnson not dropped a near certain pick-six before halftime.
After the game, head coach Kevin O'Connell declined to commit to Dobbs as Minnesota's starting quarterback against the Las Vegas Raiders. The Vikings have a bye next week before facing Raiders in Week 14. O'Connell intends to spend part of that time evaluating Dobbs and Minnesota's other options at quarterback amid the season-ending Achilles injury to starter Kirk Cousins.
Those other options are backup Nick Mullens and third-string rookie Jaren Hall.
"We're gonna take a look, really evaluate the inventory of plays now we have of Josh," O'Connell said in his postgame news conference. "We got healthy, we've got Jaren back available to us. And Nick Mullens is available as well."
The Vikings traded for Dobbs from the Arizona Cardinals at the trade deadline after Cousins' injury, and Dobbs exceeded expectations prior to Monday. In three games against the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos, Dobbs completed 65.6% of his passes for 6.7 yards per attempt and 215.7 yards per game with four touchdowns and one interception. He added 131 yards and three more touchdowns on the ground. The Vikings beat the Saints and Falcons before last week's 21-20 loss to the Broncos.
O'Connell praised Dobbs for his efforts in those games coming in cold to the offense from another team.
"I think what Josh Dobbs has done coming in here on short notice and going 2-2 in a stretch where a lot of people might have thought Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson being out, the deck’s stacked against us."
Then came Monday. The Vikings were stagnant on offense. They tallied 78 yards and three points before halftime. They eventually scored a touchdown on a pass from Dobbs to T. J. Hockenson late in the fourth quarter. But given a chance to seize control of the game with a 10-9 lead and the ball near midfield after Justin Fields fumbled, the Vikings lost five yards while going three-and-out. They punted with 2:35 remaining and watched the Bears march for a game-winning field goal.
Dobbs completed 22 of 32 passes for 185 yards (5.8 yards per attempt) with one touchdown and four interceptions. Sixty-five of those yards arrived on the single touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. O'Connell told reporters that prior to that drive it "started to get to the point" where he was considering replacing Dobbs with Mullens in game.
Despite the injuries to Cousins and All-Pro wide receiver Justin Jefferson, the Vikings are 6-6 and would be in the playoffs if they started next week. The Vikings have something to play for, and they activated Jefferson from injured reserve Tuesday. He's expected to play against the Raiders.
O'Connell: Jefferson's return plays a role in QB decision
O'Connell said Tuesday that Jefferson's return will impact his decision on who to start at quarterback
"We're going to make sure that whoever is playing quarterback is aware and understands the intent behind plays where either Justin is the primary, or based upon coverage, based upon the defensive look, how to quickly and efficiently get to the right place to go with the football," O'Connell said, per ESPN.
He also implied that Dobbs' relative newness to the Vikings offense could put him at a disadvantage.
"There are still a lot of things that are new for him and just the margin of error, when you're talking about the NFL pass game, can be razor thin sometimes," O'Connell said. "The difference between conversions and chances for catch-and-runs versus potential turnover-worthy plays is such a small margin of error.