There was a moment, about three weeks ago, when Josh Dobbs was driving home.
And it all hit him at once.
It’s a winding path Dobbs took to get here. Two years in Pittsburgh. A trade to Jacksonville, and a subsequent return to the Steelers. Last year in Cleveland, a stint that ended with Deshaun Watson’s return. A stop on the Lions practice squad in December, preceding a two-week run as a Titan and his first NFL start, four days after Christmas. Then, a return to Cleveland as Watson’s new/old backup and, finally, the Aug. 24 trade to Arizona.
As Dobbs gripped the wheel—heading for the hotel the Cardinals were putting him up in while he looked for a more permanent place in Phoenix—the weight of chance to, finally, have his own team landed on his shoulders. And instead of feeling the pressure of it, as he sat there driving through the night, he consciously chose to appreciate it.
“I parked the car before I got in, and I said, Don’t forget to enjoy it,” Dobbs says. “Enjoy the opportunity. Enjoy everything about it. Enjoy the interpersonal conversations with your teammates. Enjoy meeting new people. Enjoy finding a new place to live, and enjoy the soreness waking up on Monday after the game. Don’t forget to enjoy it because you missed it over the past several years.”
“I did have to remind myself of that. I am enjoying it, and I’ll continue to enjoy it moving forward.”
It’s safe to say the Cardinals are enjoying having him too.
The 28-year-old, through three weeks, has been a revelation in the desert. He started his first game as a Cardinal (and third in seven years as a pro) just 17 days after the trade, and has since completed 72.0% of his passes for 549 yards, two touchdowns and a 98.1 rating over the first three weeks as a full-time starter. And that was capped, finally and improbably, with the first win for new coach Jonathan Gannon and GM Monti Ossenfort in Arizona on Sunday.
The Cardinals had knocked on the door the first two weeks. They held a lead into the fourth quarter against the Commanders in Week 1, and blew a massive lead to the Giants in Week 2.
So it’s not like Arizona hadn’t flashed the ability to win a game.
But that its first win would come against a streaking Dallas team that dismantled its first two opponents by an aggregate score of 70–10 was, well, not in the script of this NFL season. Even more surprising was how the Cardinals did it, taking apart the Cowboys in a win that, at least by the numbers, was no fluke.
The Cardinals defense held Dallas out of the end zone for the entire second half, scoring a crucial turnover on downs and an interception along the way. With veteran James Conner as the lead dog, the run game churned out 222 yards. And in the middle of it all was the steady, whip-smart Dobbs (also an aerospace engineering major from Tennessee), going 17-of-21 for 189 yards, a touchdown and a 120.0 rating against Dan Quinn’s vaunted Dallas defense.
To Dobbs, the way his team played against a top-shelf opponent was a result of two things.
First, it’s how Gannon, amid all the snickers about the “tanking” Cardinals, has gotten his players playing: “We play hard. Up front on offense, O-line. We play hard on defense, how we run to the football and hit. We play hard, and it starts there.” Second, with so many new pieces and moving parts in a coach and GM’s first year, it's how the team’s confidence has been building as the players have gotten to know each other.
Perhaps that was most evident Sunday with the aggressive call offensive coordinator Drew Petzing, who had Dobbs in Cleveland and was a driver in getting him to Arizona, made in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys had just gotten within the 5-yard line, at 21–16, less than 10 minutes after the Arizona defense forced a field goal with a red-zone stop. Some teams, in that spot, would go into four-minute and start bleeding the clock.
Petzing did the opposite. And he did the opposite in large part because Dobbs and the offense had earned that—scoring of all five of their first-half possessions, before stalling a bit in the second half. Dobbs hit rookie Michael Wilson, schemed wide open, for 69 yards, and suddenly Arizona was three plays away from a touchdown that would put Dallas away.
“We knew if we kept playing our game, they haven’t really stopped us, so we’re going to get guys open and get guys in good position to go out and make plays,” Dobbs says. “From there, we’re able to move the pocket, have great protection, and run a two-vertical concept with an over. They tried to man it up and lost a Mike out the back door. It’s good football, stuff that we schemed up just watching their game.
“But it’s also just trusting in our players, trusting in our ability, trusting in our calls, trusting in our preparation. That’s where it starts.”
There’s symmetry in Dobbs talking about the Cardinal coaches trusting in the players, because just getting here required a lot of Dobbs trusting himself.
Dobbs can take you through the trade chapter and verse. The Browns were playing the Chiefs that weekend. The quarterback goes through practice Thursday. Heads home to pack for his trip Friday to Kansas City. Hops on a podcast with another former Vol, Trey Smith (now of the Chiefs), and Tennessee Representative Tim Burchett. “We’re talking UFOs and aliens,” Dobbs says.
And then, an hour-and-a-half into that conversation, the call comes from Browns GM Andrew Berry. Hey, we’re trading you to Arizona.
The Cardinals call, they have a flight for him. He packs up his apartment as best he can. That Saturday, as the Browns play the Chiefs, and the Cardinals play on the road against the Vikings, Dobbs flies to Arizona, not knowing exactly what sort of opportunity would lie ahead.
It was a golden one, to be sure.
And that, along with the wait, is why he was so resolved to letting himself enjoy it that day he sat in the hotel parking lot.
It had, after all, been seven years getting here. He thought about all the guys who he’d come across or mentored, over the years that got shots before he did. He was a counselor at Elite 11 when Justin Fields and Tua Tagovailoa came through there as high schoolers. He was a senior at Tennessee when Trevor Lawrence rolled through Knoxville on his recruiting visit. In Atlanta, working with QB trainer Quincy Avery, he was alongside a young C.J. Stroud. He thought the doubt that his chance would ever come. He was going to relish what was ahead.
“Obviously, six years is a long time to wait,” Dobbs says. “Guys you mentored when they were in high school at Elite 11 as a college starter, seeing them get opportunities before you. I don’t want to say I was like, I’ll never get a shot. I was just like, Whenever you get a shot, you just have to take advantage of it. When there’s only 32 people in the world that play this position, man, it can be tough. So I just trusted in myself, trusted in my preparation and took it one day at a time.
“I think so many times people look ahead. They look for the end of the journey. They look at sitting on top of the hill that they want to get to, so they forget to fall in love with the process. That’s what I was able to do, fall in love with the process. I decided I’d continue to do that and be ready for any opportunity thrown my way.”
And as the Cowboys could tell you, he sure has been.