Atlanta Ousts Dan Quinn

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Chris Thomas, Staff Writer

Only five games into the 2020-2021 NFL season, Atlanta Falcons Owner Arthur Blank decided the franchise no longer needed the services of Head Coach Dan Quinn.

 

The Falcons hired Quinn in 2015 after his success as defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks. In five seasons he coached the Falcons to an overall record of 43-37, one division championship, one conference championship and an infamous Super Bowl loss.

 

It seemed that Atlanta was content with this performance, especially considering that the team was a combined 10-22 in the two seasons leading up to his hire. That being said, management would not tolerate an 0-5 record and that is exactly what Quinn had to offer this season.

 

Despite missing the playoffs, the Falcons had a decent run to end their 2019 season. They won their last four games and capped off this streak with an overtime victory against division rival Tampa Bay. In light of this ‘success’, the Falcons were not looking for a new coach, but they did make plenty of personnel changes.

 

Their busy offseason included the notable departures of CB Desmond Trufant, RB Devonta Freeman and TE Austin Hooper. To counteract these losses, they brought in TE Hayden Hurst, RB Todd Gurley, and DE Dante Fowler, along with rookie CB A.J. Terrel, whom the team selected in the first round of the draft. Their division, the NFC south, made changes as well. The arrival of Tom Brady in Tampa Bay certainly didn’t improve the falcons outlook, but a playoff spot, and to some the division title, was not off the table for the Falcons.

 

To be clear, they were certainly not seen as world beaters, however they were expected to be just about middle of the pack. Coming into the season, ESPN ranked them as the 18th best team and Pro Football Focus had them at 19th.

 

Despite this positive outlook, Falcons fans had a disheartening opening week as the Seahawks came to Atlanta and the Falcons found themselves down 20 points in the fourth quarter. A late touchdown and successful onside kick almost brought Atlanta within striking range with less than a minute to go, but the game ended with an interception from QB Matt Ryan. Russel Wilson, Seattle’s QB, threw for over 300 yards and four touchdowns to go along with them, all while completing 89% of his passes.

 

The following week, the Falcons traveled to Dallas to face the Cowboys. Initially, it seemed that the falcon’s season had taken a turn for the better. They led 20-0 in the second quarter and had a 15-point lead with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Then, in typical Atlanta sports fashion, disaster struck.

 

The Cowboys scored 13 unanswered points, yet the falcons still held the lead and the Cowboys would have to convert an onside kick to get the ball back. In 2019, the onside kick conversion rate was just below 13% and this kick looked like it was going to be a part of the 87%, but the Falcons players, without explanation, just watched the ball bounce past them and the Cowboys recovered. QB Dak Prescott completed a pass to WR CeeDee lamb, bringing them well within field goal range.

 

The veteran kicker Greg Zuerlein lined up from the 46-yard line and the ball sailed through the uprights to seal the Cowboys’ victory. Prescott only recorded one Touchdown, but he finished with 450 yards at a 72% completion rate.

 

This brought the Falcon’s record to 0-2, but with 14 games left to be played, it was not the end of the world. In week three the Falcons matched up against the Chicago Bears who were undefeated through two weeks. Once again, the Falcons found themselves up big. Two rushing touchdowns and a goal line completion from Ryan placed the team in firm control as they led 26-10 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

 

To the dismay of many Falcons fans, the lead did not hold. Nick Foles, who had replaced Mitchell Trubisky at QB for the bears, threw three touchdowns in the final seven minutes of the game. Trubisky and Foles combined for 307 yards, 154 of which came in the fourth quarter alone.

 

The pattern cannot be any clearer. Quarterbacks have great performances through the air against the Falcons. In week four Aaron Rodgers threw for 327 yards and Teddy Bridgewater threw for 313 yards in week five: the Falcons lost both games. Whatever defensive prowess Quinn had exercised in Seattle was missing in action for Atlanta.

 

0-5 was unacceptable and Quinn was subsequently released following the 23-16 loss to the division rival Carolina Panthers. On Oct. 12, the Falcons announced that Raheem Morris would fill in for Quinn as the interim head coach. Ironically, Morris had served as the defensive coordinator for the Falcons this season. The very same defense that gave up an average of 343.8 passing yards per game through the first five weeks.

 

Nonetheless, Morris and the falcons rebounded against the Minnesota Vikings in week six. Ryan completed 75% of his passes for 371 yards and WR Julio Jones had 137 of those yards on eight catches. More importantly, the defense had a much-improved performance. A late game effort by QB Kirk Cousins, who finished with 343 yards and three Touchdowns, hides the fact that the Falcons shut out the Vikings in the first half and recorded three interceptions.

 

After winning his first game as head coach, Morris’ next task was to defeat the Detroit Lions.  The Lions were coming to Atlanta after a big win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, but trailed the Falcons at half behind a rushing touchdown from RB Todd Gurley and a receiving touchdown from WR Calvin Ridley. In an interesting turn of events, including a missed field goal from Lions’ kicker Matt Prater and a fumble from Ryan, the Lions took the lead with a little more than 3 minutes left in the game.

 

After five completions from Ryan and a couple of runs from Gurley, the Falcons found themselves down two points, at the 10-yard line. It was first and goal with 1:12 remaining on the clock. If you do the math, Morris would just need to keep his team in range and kick a field goal as time expires. The Falcons ran the ball to keep the clock moving, but Gurley built up momentum and was unable to keep himself out of the end zone after breaking two tackles.

 

The Falcons went for two, bringing their accidental lead to six, except Detroit still had 57 seconds to prevent a loss. Lions’ QB Matthew Stafford completed three passes and after a spike the Lions had 11 yards between themselves and the end zone with just four seconds to spare. On the final play, Stafford avoided a sack and connected with TE T.J. Hockenson to win the game. Prater sealed the deal by converting the extra point.

 

 After choking another lead, granted a smaller one, many Falcons fans were less confident in their interim head coach. Morris seemed to get no sympathy despite this being his second game at the helm and having a decent win in the previous week. As Shannon Sharpe, HOF TE and current sports analyst, has said time and time again, the NFL is a, ‘what have you done for me lately?’ league.

 

The Falcons currently round out the bottom of the NFC south with a devastating 1-6 record. There is only one team with a worse record, the winless New York Jets.

 

As I alluded to before, everything is still on the table with nine games left in the season, but in reality it would be a tall task for the Falcons to make the playoffs at this point. On the bright side, it appears that Quinn was a problem and he is gone now, but it is not yet clear that Morris is the solution.