The Minnesota Vikings and the Las Vegas Raiders are proof that major midseason upheaval doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to start aiming for the draft instead of the playoffs.
Days after the Vikings acquired him in a trade deadline deal with Arizona following Kirk Cousins’ torn Achilles tendon, Joshua Dobbs was pressed into duty when rookie QB Jaren Hall went out with a concussion in the first quarter Sunday at Atlanta.
Dobbs gathered his offensive linemen on the sideline to go over his cadence, then led the Vikings to three touchdowns, including the game-winning 6-yard throw to Brandon Powell with 22 seconds left to rally the Vikings past the Falcons 31-28.
All this from “a guy who’s still living in a hotel,” marveled Minnesota offensive lineman Dalton Risner, who knows a thing or two about the challenges of joining a team midseason after he signed with the Vikings in late September.
“I can only imagine, bro. I know what it was like to learn this in three weeks and have to get on the field,” Risner said. “His was what? Three days? Just a stud, man.”
Winners of four straight, the Vikings (5-4) are very much in the NFC playoff picture even though Dobbs is still learning everyone’s names.
“I know a lot of nicknames per se, but name names, that’s for this week, that’s the assignment for this week,” he said.
The refreshed Raiders have a lot more teams to leapfrog in the AFC, but at 4-5 there’s a renewed hope they can salvage their season after blowing out the New York Giants 30-6 in interim coach Antonio Pierce’s debut Sunday.
The team played tight under former coach Josh McDaniels’ rigid control, but under Pierce, the former Giants linebacker who replaced the fired McDaniels, there was a noticeable ease in the locker room last week. That carried over to game day and afterward, cigar smoke wafting from the victorious locker room.
“No, it’s the first time,” receiver Davante Adams said when asked if he’d ever experienced such a thing. “But I’ve never been in a predicament like this, so it was warranted.”
The victory cigars were a sign the Raiders were finally enjoying themselves after what had been a trying season that resulted in the firings of McDaniels, general manager Dave Ziegler and offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi and the benching of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
All of them had roots in New England and tried to bring the “Patriot Way” to the land of the “Black Hole” only to prove once again that maybe Bill Belichick’s celebrated ingenuity and sustained success had more to do with Tom Brady being his quarterback.
Belichick is 331-171 in his career for a .659 winning percentage. But his record without Brady is 82-96 (.461), a far cry from his 249-75 mark (.656) with Brady.
Of his 10 assistants who have gone on to become head coaches in the NFL, only two had winning records. Al Groh went 9-7 with the Jets in 2000 before returning to the college ranks, and Bill O’Brien, currently his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, went 52-48 with the Texans from 2014-20.
Even Nick Saban (15-17) had a losing record in the NFL and Brian Flores went 24-25 with the Dolphins from 2019-21. With the Giants falling to 2-7 with their loss at Las Vegas, Brian Daboll is 11-13-1.
The other five are way under .500: Joe Judge (10-23), Matt Patricia (13-29-1), McDaniels (20-33), Romeo Crennel (32-63) and Eric Mangini (33-47).
Belichick’s disciples are a combined 219-305-2 for a winning percentage of .416.
McDaniels became the first noninterim coach in the Super Bowl era to be fired by two franchises before the end of his second season. He was fired in Denver in 2010 after compiling an 11-17 record and he went 20-33 in Las Vegas.
McDaniels benched Derek Carr late last season and eventually cut him in the offseason, giving the Raiders no return for a starting quarterback who ended up getting a $150 million contract from New Orleans.
McDaniels brought in Garoppolo, his former pupil in New England, as the new starting quarterback this year and the offense severely regressed. The Raiders became the first team since 2009 to score fewer than 20 points on offense in each of the first eight games of the season.
The last two weeks were particularly humbling as Las Vegas lost 30-12 to Chicago and undrafted rookie former Division II quarterback Tyson Bagent and then looked inept in a 26-14 loss at Detroit.
Although his firing on Halloween night appeared abrupt, tensions had been building for a while and culminated in a contentious team meeting days earlier.
Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reported there was an “airing of grievances” between players and coaches at the team meeting and that players “unloaded on Josh McDaniels,” who had Pierce get up and speak on his behalf at the end.
Glazer reported that Pierce referenced the Giants’ Super Bowl upset of New England in 2008 that denied the Patriots a perfect season, a reference that apparently offended McDaniels.
If the Raiders keep winning, Pierce might avoid Rich Bisaccia’s fate in 2021 when he took over for Jon Gruden and led the Raiders to an unlikely playoff berth only to get bypassed for the permanent job. That went to McDaniels, who talked a better game than he coached, never connected with the players and made repeated mistakes in roster building and game-day management.
Another of McDaniels’ former pupils sees a different history repeating itself.
“I feel like Billy O’Brien might be out of there after this year,” former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said on FanDuel TV’s Up & Adams, suggesting O’Brien will get another head coaching gig just like he did in 2011 when he left for Penn State, which opened the door for McDaniels to return to New England for his second stint under Belichick.
“So if that’s the case,” Gronkowski said, “I think Josh McDaniels comes back as offensive coordinator in New England, that’s for sure.”
There’d be no Brady waiting for him this time.
AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell and AP Sports Writer Mark Anderson contributed to this report.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl