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 to the Lions’ practice squad to Tennessee’s 53-man roster. He had a new playbook and terminology to learn on the fly at the end of the season at the most difficult position in football: quarterback. And before Thursday’s game against the Cowboys, he hadn’t taken an NFL regular-season snap since January 2021. Almost two years.

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

Despite all that, and a 27-13 loss to Dallas, it seems like a fair conclusion: Dobbs gives the Titans (7-9) the best chance to top the surging Jaguars (7-8) in the AFC title game South next week. Rookie Malik Willis should remain on the bench.

Thursday essentially served as a tryout for Dobbs, a fellow safety 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 the 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 make the playoffs. After Tennessee’s sixth straight loss, coach Mike Vrabel didn’t commit to who would get the starting call next week in Jacksonville. But after just four quarters at Nissan Stadium, Dobbs looks the better option.

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

In Thursday’s loss, a meaningless game for the Tennessee punts, and with the team down for multiple starters, Dobbs was able to move the offense better than Willis has all year. The veteran completed 51.3 percent of his passes (20-of-39) for 232 yards, including 143 at halftime, and his first career touchdown against a Cowboys defense playing all of its best. Willis did not reach 100 yards or a passing touchdown in any of his three starts.

At times Thursday, Dobbs looked like a sign he hadn’t played meaningful football in a while. He threw a bad interception in the fourth quarter. In the first half he had two close interceptions and two fumbles, including a fumble. But his operation of an offense he’s still learning looked relatively clean. He had some good pitches in motion. It showed the quick decision making and processing in the pocket that Willis has struggled with. His numbers would have been even better if it weren’t for some drops from the Titans receivers as well.

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

Dobbs showed an ability to bounce back early in the second quarter. He dodged and avoided disaster on the same play, catching the ball after being stripped and nearly thrown away on a throw. Two plays later, he connected on a 39-yarder to wide receiver Racey McMath.

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

Overall, Dobbs had three passing plays of at least 30 yards. Willis has only completed one of those in the six games he’s attempted.

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

Willis is clearly the more physically gifted player, possessing dynamic running ability and a knack for off-the-deck throws. But Hobbs looks like the best quarterback today to run this version of the Titans’ offense, which has lacked consistency all season amid issues with pass protection, pass catching and second-half execution.

“Man, we’re throwing routes out there on the field that we haven’t even thrown 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 next week where we actually have a full week to prepare for the game.”

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

That fate should be in Dobbs’ hands.

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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) before moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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