MINNEAPOLIS — This is what it’s like to believe, to think something is possible, then watch it evaporate in plain sight.
Minnesota Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell watched the drama unfold. Rookie receiver Jordan Addison’s eyes widen as he runs past a Chicago Bears defender. A deep shot unfolded in front of O’Connell, his eyes shifting to his quarter. Josh Dobbs raises the pocket and launches a pass.
As the ball traveled down the left side in the direction of a wide-open Addison – but a smidge too wide and out of play – O’Connell dropped to his knees. He grimaced as if he had been wronged. In a way, he had.
It wasn’t long ago that Dobbs, acquired at the trade deadline to replace injured starter Kirk Cousins, stunned these Vikings. In the span of two weeks, he has flexed defenders, flexed aggressively, and instilled a sense of hope in the eager fans.
Now, there was This is. Disappointment for your knees. Difficult to understand. Poor ball protection.
The long inconclusiveness between Dobbs and Addison represented the painful reality of Monday night’s 12-10 Minnesota loss at US Bank Stadium. Dobbs threw four interceptions, and confidence in him was shattered by the team’s lack of aggressive play on its final drive.
Bears win low-scoring battle against Vikings in MNF
“It’s a pretty crushed locker room right now,” O’Connell said afterward. “We didn’t have the efficiency we wanted offensively.”
The result further darkens the Vikings’ future. First, there’s the playoff picture. Minnesota (6-6) is still tied for seventh in the NFC, but the gap has thinned. Green Bay and Los Angeles were right on its heels.
The chatter surrounds which quarterback will lead the Vikings as they try to punch their ticket to the dance. By the end of Monday’s match, O’Connell was already thinking along these lines. Asked what his plan will be as Minnesota approaches its bye week and heads to Las Vegas, O’Connell spoke in noncommittal fashion and said he and his staff are reviewing Dobbs’ inventory of four games as the Vikings. Quarter.
“We’re going to look at (it),” O’Connell said. “We’ve got Jaren (Hall) back, and Nick Mullens as well.”
Although Dobbs completed a 17-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass to DJ Hockenson late in the fourth quarter, the journeyman quarterback known as “The Pastronaud” dug a deep hole, especially in the turnover department. Following last week’s loss to the Denver Broncos, Dobbs threw an interception and a fumble, sharing that he considers possession the key to all of his “dreams, hopes and aspirations.”
But those dreams were shattered on Monday. Dobbs’ first interception came in the second quarter. Bears cornerback Jaylen Johnson responded by covering a short route in the flat. Dobbs caught a pass over Johnson, who hoped to hit Addison in a small window near the sideline. Instead, Johnson retreated from his starting role, leaping and snapping the football.
“I was blown away,” Dobbs said. “(Johnson) did a good job and then fell.”
Dobbs’ second interception came moments later. Addison was isolated on the left side of the formation on third-and-4 near midfield. He avoids body coverage from the corner and peels towards the middle of the field. Dobbs threw the football into Addison’s path, but it arrived just seconds before the receiver turned his head. The ball was caught in Addison’s grasp.
The final two intercepts are byproducts of tipped passes. Late in the third quarter, Dobbs hit a pass in a tight window to wide receiver KJ Osborne in a fourth-and-2 situation. The ball ended up in the hands of linebacker DJ Edwards. Then, early in the fourth quarter, Topps threw a pass off to fullback CJ Hamm. It went in and out of the hands of Bears lineman Justin Jones, but defensive end Kyler Gordon scooped it up before the ball hit the ground.
“I can’t put the ball in danger,” Dobbs said. “It’s a good line.”
But Minnesota’s inaccuracy isn’t limited to its revenue. Looking for a spark early in the third quarter, and seeing the way the Vikings defense limited the Bears offense, O’Connell rolled the dice on a fourth-and-7 situation near midfield. Dobbs dropped back and threw a pass a half-foot behind Hawkenson on a route. The tight end headed for the first-down marker, but came up a half-yard short.
O’Connell, recalling the play after the game, noted Dobbs’ footwork and wondered aloud what the outcome would have been if Dobbs had set his feet quickly and thrown the pass earlier to Hockenson. O’Connell then replayed what he described as a “long foul ball” – missing the aforementioned Addison on the side.
“The rhythm and timing of our offense didn’t feel as crisp as we wanted,” O’Connell said.
However, again Brian Flores’ defense gave the Vikings a chance. The Bears opted for a short passing game, and even though quarterback Justin Fields completed 27-of-37 passes for 217 yards, Minnesota largely dictated the action. Edge rusher Daniel Hunter and safety Josh Metellus created opportunities for the Vikings offense by forcing two downfield fumbles in the fourth quarter. The second, with 3:28 left in the game, put the Vikings in prime position to secure the victory.
At the time, Minnesota led 10-9 and held the ball at Chicago’s 43. The Bears only have two timeouts left. O’Connell weighed his options. He decided to mitigate the risk given the performance of the topps so far. The plan: Try to run the ball, force the Bears to use their timeouts and gain enough yards to bring out kicker Greg Joseph on a field goal attempt.
The Vikings ran the ball twice for a total of 1 yard. On third-and-9, Dobbs had the ability to change the original play and push the ball down depending on what the Bears defense showed. They teamed up with a deep defense, tying the Vikings to a more conservative call. Minnesota lost a yard on the play.
Punter Ryan Wright couldn’t match the Bears deep. Then Fields used his legs and punished a Flores blitz on third down, leading to the Bears’ victory.
“You struggle between being aggressive and giving them a narrow field if we turn it over,” O’Connell said. “Then it’s about trusting our defense, which has gotten us to this point in the game over the last two weeks.”
The fact that O’Connell was worried about Topps turning the ball over in a crunch situation is a sign of uncertainty about the team’s future. It also helps explain his approach to play calling throughout the game.
O’Connell tried to be aggressive early with a deep shot in the first game. He tried to stabilize Dobbs. He thought about running the football more, but understood that dropback situations wouldn’t be good given the way Dobbs was playing.
“It’s a battle,” O’Connell said.
After Monday night’s battle, Addison slouched in his chair and faced his locker. A towel was wrapped around his head. He sat motionless.
A few yards away, Dobbs sat in full uniform facing the locker room that celebrated him a few weeks ago. He stared blankly, expressionless, as all his dreams, hopes and aspirations hung in the balance.
(Photo: David Berting / Getty Images)
“Football 100,” the definitive ranking of the NFL’s 100 greatest players of all time, is on sale now. Place an order Here.