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Vikings Improbable Win at Falcons Cements Belief

ATLANTA — Traditional coachspeak is that every game counts the same.

While that's fundamentally true, not every victory FEELS the same.

Some wins, even in the NFL (which emphasizes parity among 32 teams), are expected.

Others can be decided on a couple of superlative plays at critical times.

Then, there are some like Sunday's 31-28 Vikings win over the Falcons in Atlanta, that must be earned through grit, determination, overcoming adversity and in spite of several doses of improbability.

Consider…

The Vikings started rookie quarterback Jaren Hall, who had only played a handful of snaps the week before at Green Bay in relief of Kirk Cousins. Hall moved the team into scoring range on his second possession but left the game after suffering a concussion while scrambling on third down.

The only other active quarterback for Minnesota was Joshua Dobbs, who had been acquired Tuesday from Arizona, didn't yet know every teammate's full name and hadn't taken a snap from starting center Garrett Bradbury because the Vikings were so busy preparing Hall.

Minnesota (5-4) played its fourth consecutive game with Justin Jefferson on Injured Reserve and lost reliable receiver K.J. Osborn to a concussion in the second quarter. The Vikings later lost Cam Akers, too, to what is believed to be an Achilles injury.

And, for good measure, left tackle Christian Darrisaw was ruled out before the game, with the Vikings turning to veteran David Quessenberry, who was picked up at the start of the season, alongside Dalton Risner, who was playing his seventh game and making his third start with the Vikings.

Sure, Atlanta was missing key players like defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (Injured Reserve), and played without receiver Drake London, but the number of things that seemed like they'd tilt the scales toward the Falcons kept piling up.

That set the stage for Brandon Powell — a 5-foot-8 receiver whose toughness stands tall and has been counted out by multiple people — to make a leaping touchdown reception on third-and-4 from the Atlanta 6-yard line with 22 seconds remaining.

Powell was battling cramps, and tight end T.J. Hockenson powered through an "oblique/rib" injury.

Greg Joseph netted his 11th point of the day (second extra point to go with three field goals) for the 31-28 comeback victory.

Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell has emphasized belief in a "culture you can feel" and has expressed optimism through every twist and turn of a 2023 season that opened with three consecutive losses.

"There's so much about it, when you think about all the things you talk about every single day in your organization, that people matter, that culture matters, building the type of football team we're going to have, what's inside each and every guy in that locker room and the feelings they have toward one another," O'Connell said. "These are the days that kind of cement why you believe what you believe as a coach. I'll quite honestly remember this one for a really long time, mainly for those guys, the adversity, the response, all the things we spend a lot of time talking about it.

"The guy that eventually played quarterback hasn't heard a lot of those speeches, but he's got that in his makeup clearly, and I'm really proud of the way he came in and battled," O'Connell added of Dobbs, who completed 20 of 30 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns, rushed seven times for 66 yards (including an 18-yard touchdown) and finished with a passer rating of 101.8.

After Dobbs completed a postgame interview, O'Connell rallied Vikings players who formed a gauntlet of celebration for the QB to motor through.

"I would not discount Josh Dobbs and his ability to come in here and do something that I don't think many quarterbacks in our league could do," O'Connell said. "We asked a lot of him and just spectacular performances around him."

Everyone who has been rostered longer seemed to provide just an extra ounce on key plays.

Akayleb Evans forced a fumble that Josh Metellus recovered in a heaping pile of humanity.

That takeaway gave Minnesota the ball at the Atlanta 40 and set up the tying touchdown run by Dobbs.

The Vikings picked off Taylor Heinicke on his next snap when D.J. Wonnum pressured the one-time Vikings backup, and Byron Murphy, Jr., nabbed the errant throw.

Powell (from Florida), Dobbs and Wonnum (both from the Atlanta metro) all had multiple family members in attendance.

"My whole family was here, my mommy, daddy, sister, grandma," Powell said. "They got to see me score the game-winning touchdown. I'm thankful for Coach calling the play and trusting me out there."

Linebacker Jordan Hicks summarized, "This whole season has kind of been a story of adversity, you know?"

Safe to say most people reading this get the drift.

"Being able to fight back, turn it around and look at it square in the face and just fight and find our way of the ropes, with injuries, with things that happen in games, that's part of it, and it's special that this team is able to come closer through that adversity," Hicks said. "We've got guys stepping up all over the place, whether it's 12-year guys, you've got rookies, Jordan Addison stepping up."

Quessenberry, who also was mentioned by O'Connell in his postgame speech, said Sunday "might be the grimiest road win I've ever been a part of.

"That was a really good win right there. It was cool to be a part of. Props to the dudes in this room," Quessenberry said. "I think you've got to really give credit to the culture of the Vikings. We've got a locker room full of a bunch of good dudes that can raise their level of play when one man goes down and help each other out. A rising tide lifts all ships. The culture is the tide in this locker room, and raised everyone's level of play."

O'Connell called it a "an ultimate team win."

"Everybody in that locker room got a game ball, as they should," O'Connell said.

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