HomeSportsJosh Dobbs, in loss to Cowboys, shows he’s Titans’ best QB option...

Josh Dobbs, in loss to Cowboys, shows he’s Titans’ best QB option to win AFC South

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Josh Dobbs joined the Titans eight days ago, signed off the Lions’ practice squad to Tennessee’s 53-man roster. He had a new playbook and terminology to learn, on the fly late in the season, at the most difficult position in football: quarterback. And before Thursday’s game against the Cowboys, he hadn’t taken a regular-season NFL snap since January 2021. Nearly two years

Dobbs hadn’t started an NFL game since … ever.

Despite all that, and a 27-13 loss to Dallas, this feels like a fair conclusion: Dobbs gives the Titans (7-9) the best chance to top the ascending Jaguars (7-8) in next week’s AFC South title game. Rookie Malik Willis should remain benched. 

Thursday essentially served as a tryout for Dobbs, a journeyman backup who was a 2017 fourth-round pick out of Tennessee. Starter Ryan Tannehill is officially out for the rest of the regular season (he was placed on injured reserve earlier Thursday). And Willis, a 2022 third-round pick out of Liberty, has struggled mightily in Tannehill’s absence. 

The Titans had to be 100 percent sure that Dobbs couldn’t give them a better chance than Willis to reach the playoffs. Following Tennessee’s sixth consecutive loss, coach Mike Vrabel was noncommittal on who’d get the starting nod next week at Jacksonville. But after just four quarters at Nissan Stadium, Dobbs looks like the better option. 

“It’s a unique situation and a wonderful opportunity that I really embraced and had a lot of fun with,” the 27-year-old Dobbs said.

In Thursday’s defeat — a game meaningless to Tennessee’s playoff stakes, and with the team down several starters — Dobbs was able to move the offense better than Willis has all year. The veteran completed 51.3% of his passes (20-of-39) for 232 yards, including 143 by halftime, and his first career touchdown against a Cowboys defense playing all of its top guys. Willis didn’t touch 100 passing yards or have a passing touchdown in any of his three starts. 

At times Thursday, Dobbs looked every bit like a signal-caller who hadn’t played meaningful football in a while. He threw a bad interception in the fourth quarter. He had two near interceptions and two fumbles, including one lost, in the first half. But his operation of an offense he’s still learning looked relatively clean. He had some nice throws on the move. He showed the quick decision-making and processing in the pocket that Willis has struggled with. His numbers would have been even better if not for a few drops by Titans receivers, too. 

“There are little things situationally that I’m already aware of that I know I can get better [at],” Dobbs said. “Of course, that comes with more reps and being out there and getting hit for the first time in a while. So I’m not too worried about those. I know I’ll clean those up. Excited to dive into the tape with the coaches and continue to grow and improve as quickly as possible to give the team the best chance that we have to win.”

Dobbs flashed an ability to bounce back early in the second quarter. He avoided and averted disaster on the same play, scooping up the ball after being stripped and then nearly getting picked off on a throw-away. Two plays later, he connected on a 39-yard shot to wide receiver Racey McMath

Right before the half, Dobbs hit rookie Treylon Burks for an impressive 30-yard reception down the sideline that set up a short field goal from Randy Bullock, which cut Tennessee’s deficit to 10-6 in a game no one expected to be close. 

Overall, Dobbs had three passing plays of at least 30 yards. Willis has just one such completion in the six games he’s attempted a pass.

“[Dobbs] played his game,” said Robert Woods, who had five receptions for 39 yards and a touchdown. “Was able to give us opportunities to make plays.”

Willis is clearly the more physically gifted player, possessing a dynamic running ability and a knack for off-platform throws. But Hobbs looks like the better quarterback today to run this version of the Titans offense, which hasn’t found consistency all season amid issues with pass protecting, pass catching and second-half execution. 

“Shoot, we’re throwing routes out there on the field that we haven’t even thrown out there in practice because of a short week,” Dobbs said. “Being able to make those plays throughout the game, hopefully that will propel us into this upcoming week, where we’ll actually have a full week to prepare for the game.”

With all that’s gone wrong this year, the Titans still control their destiny. It’s “win-and-in” next week at Jacksonville. 

That fate should be in Dobbs’ hands.

Top stories from FOX Sports:

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur

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