This article is a parody, and none of the quotes or images contained within it are real, nor are they factual.
Matt Ryan found himself startled as he woke up in the depths of Dan Quinn’s cavernous office underneath the Atlanta Falcons’ Flowery Branch practice facility. The head coach was glaring at Ryan from within the confines, a single torch providing the only light available.
“Good, you’re awake,” Quinn said in a callous tone. His demeanor had gotten progressively more negative with each passing week, each passing defeat. Suffer enough losses in this business and even the most sturdy of men end up breaking eventually; Quinn seemed to be nearing his breaking point.
“Today, you will go through the trials of your reckoning,” the head coach continued, a smile never finding its way onto his face.
He was confused as to why Quinn was going through all of this trouble instead of watching game film and preparing his defense for the upcoming week. “I guess this is why our defense gives up 31 points per game,” thought the irritated quarterback.
Suddenly, Quinn’s office dissolved away and Ryan found himself standing in a dark wood next to his head coach.
“There’s no going back from here, you will have to take this spiritual journey through all nine circles of football hell,” Quinn explained.
The two entered the gate leading into the inferno. Behind them, a sign outside of the entrance stood, reading “Abandon all hope, ye who play prevent defense.”
Note: The transitions of Ryan passing out between each circle are in direct reference to Dante’s Inferno, where Dante transitions the passage through each circle of hell by having his character faint.
Circle One: Special Teams
Ryan found himself standing under center at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, with the entire football field in between him and a sign which read “Exit from football hell here.” For every effort he made to move toward the end of the field, the quarterback always found himself backed up in the same spot within the shadow of his own goal posts.
“What’s happening — why do I keep getting backed up into the depths of my own side of the field every single time?”
“You must constantly overcome the terrible field positioning given to you by this team’s awful special teams unit, aided by the terrible special teams coaches I have kept on my staff,” Quinn replied from the sideline.
Ryan did everything in his power to overcome the difficult field positioning, but he found himself back at the same spot, time after time. When he finally got himself to the end of the field, he watched a stoic Matt Bryant run onto the field and miss the extra point which would have given the QB safe passage home.
Ryan passed out as the ball clanked off the goal posts.
Circle Two: Run Game
When Ryan woke up, he found himself met by a trio of running backs. Two frail versions of Michael Turner and Steven Jackson, and the current version of Devonta Freeman.
“We are the ones who put you behind the sticks whenever you give us the ball, the ones who strike no fear into the opposing defense and who allow their pass rush to focus specifically on you,” announced Jackson, who gave off a very 2013-esque vibe.
“Michael, you were always someone I could count on to move me down the field in my younger days. What did they do to you?” asked a concerned Ryan in the direction of former All-Pro Michael Turner.
“They ran me into the ground. Mike Mularkey ran me into the ground,” Turner replied
With that, a vicious Dont’a Hightower came charging in on Ryan out of nowhere. He ran right by Freeman, who instead of trying to block him did nothing, and Hightower crushed Ryan into the turf. The quarterback passed out.
Circle Three: Offensive Line
As soon as Ryan regained consciousness he found himself with a football in his hands and immediately threw it away as he got hit again.
In front of him stood five turnstiles with Atlanta Falcon jerseys reading “Holmes,” “Schweitzer,” “Person,” “Konz,” and “Baker” (from left to right) on them. Every time Ryan got up, a new pass rusher would come charging in after about 2.1 seconds and would crush him without much resistance.
Circle Four: Defense
Ryan came to and found himself on the sidelines in the fourth circle, seeing a scoreline of “37-31” on the massive halo board encircling a stadium of football players and fans. The Atlanta Falcons defense was on the field with five minutes remaining. The opposition was on their own 25-yard-line.
“Matt, if our defense can just avoid giving up a touchdown here, you’ll be released from this journey,” Quinn proclaimed. “Don’t worry, I’ll make these defensive calls just like I do in actual game situations.”
With that, Matt Ryan prepared himself to enter the fifth circle of football hell, knowing that he wasn’t naive enough to trust Dan Quinn’s atrocious defense.
Over the course of the next five minutes, Quinn dialed up tepid three-man rushes, soft cover 3 zone, and even a prevent play, as the defense missed a combined 57 tackles.
“We have to keep everything in front of us and not give up any explosive plays,” Quinn announced as the defense allowed many explosive plays.
When the defense allowed the touchdown, with no time remaining on the clock, Vic Beasley ran by Ryan, announcing “These idiots actually gave me $12.9 million this year.” Ryan passed out from shock.
Circle Five: The AFC
Matt Ryan awoke to a scene from Space Jam, with five “Monstars” dressed in the jerseys of every AFC team that had beaten the Falcons over the past four years (there were a lot) there to greet him.
“How did you manage to make these pathetic creatures look so powerful?” asked a perplexed Ryan, directing the question toward his head coach.
“I spend all of my prep time designing new slogans and putting them on shirts instead of studying film when we play AFC teams,” Quinn announced.
Despite all of his efforts, Ryan kept finding himself getting beaten on the football field by each of the Monstars, most of whom went back to being harmless mice after facing him and the Falcons. On the sideline, instead of calling plays, Quinn was embroidering a new catchphrase onto a shirt.
Circle Six: The Offensive Coordinators
In the middle of the football field, Ryan stood, watching a literal carousel spin on the 50-yard-line.
The first man to emerge after that carousel stopped spinning was Mike Mularkey, proclaiming that this new evolution of football into a passing league is a sham, that the game is always won with a powerful run game, and yelling “exotic smashmouth” over and over again. Ryan thought back to the frail and aged Michael Turner he saw in the second circle.
Next emerged Dirk Koetter, yelling about the beauty of the bubble screen play. Ryan admitted to himself that Koetter wasn’t that bad (some of what he was saying about the no-huddle really resonated with the quarterback), although he did seem to overstay his welcome in those moments.
Kyle Shanahan was the next man to emerge from the carousel, and everything he was saying — zone blocking run schemes, play action bootlegs, pre-snap motion — was music to Ryan’s ears. However, the tragedy here was that Shanahan disappeared too quickly. Ryan could only scream, “Come back! Be my head coach!”
A young, inexperienced Steve Sarkisian took Shanahan’s place, and it seemed clear that he was overwhelmed by the NFL stadium. He panicked and started screaming “Jet Sweep” over and over again before getting promptly replaced.
Somehow, Koetter found himself back on the field, this time arguing that run plays should get called on every single first down. Ryan could feel himself going crazy when the name “Luke Stocker” was mentioned. He passed out from frustration.
Circle Seven: Deficits
The scoreboard showed the Falcons losing by three touchdowns in the seventh circle, where Ryan now found himself.
“Everything you see in each of these circles all builds the deeper we go,” Quinn said, “no matter what you do, time will always run out before you can come all the way back in this circle.”
“I have the most fourth quarter comebacks in the league since I was drafted in 2008,” replied a confident Ryan, “I can make this comeback.”
No matter how hard Ryan tried on the field, however, everything he did was either negated by the defense or the special teams; as Quinn had noted, every unfortunate situation from earlier circles had now started building on one another.
Ryan was but just a man after all. The weight of a poor offensive line, subpar coaching, and the abomination that calls itself the Falcons defense was too much weight on his shoulders.
Circle Eight: The Ghosts of Super Bowl 51
Ryan and Quinn found themselves in Houston, Texas, with two undeniable numbers flashing on the scoreboard — 28-3.
“This is where everything started going downhill,” reminisced Ryan.
He watched as the Falcons defense gave up touchdown after touchdown to Tom Brady. As Devonta Freeman let Dont’a Hightower run right by him with no resistance to force a strip sack. As Jake Matthews committed a holding penalty which took Atlanta out of field goal range. As Julio Jones’ breathtaking catch was squandered by not running the ball. As Julian Edelman plucked the ball one inch off the ground. As Atlanta lost the coin toss. And as James White ran in for the decisive touchdown in overtime.
“This game broke us,” muttered Ryan. A sad look crossed Dan Quinn’s face. He knew that Ryan’s statement was factual. It all went downhill for the Falcons from the third quarter of that game on. It was devastating to both his team and the fanbase.
Circle Nine: Age
Ryan prepared himself mentally for the final circle of this draconian journey. He didn’t know what he would see when he woke up for the final time — a defensive line of four Aaron Donalds staring down his offensive line consisting of five Peter Konz’s? Harry Douglas tripping in the 2012 NFC Championship Game on a loop? No matter what it was, he wasn’t sure it could be worse than re-living the Super Bowl.
When he came to consciousnesses, Ryan found himself in the Georgia Dome locker room alongside his former teammates: Roddy White, Michael Turner, Todd McClure, and all of the others whom he had shared a field with once upon a time.
Ryan was surprised, but felt a sense of relief. Had this entire phenomenon been a decade-long dream?
Then, relief turned to terror when all of his teammates seemed to age exponentially in a matter of minutes.
One by one, they all withered away, and Ryan soon found himself alone in the room with Quinn.
“The scariest part of this journey is the fact that your career is withering away as well, just as everyone’s does over time. Year after year, your prime slowly gets wasted behind inept coaching, awful defense, and the inability to overcome it all,” announced Quinn in a candid tone.
Ryan could feel the age weakening his body. He was no longer that rookie who led his team to an 11-5 record with an entire career ahead of him. Time was running out, and the fact that he had come so close to the pinnacle of the mountain without reaching it made things even worse.
Dan Quinn started laughing manically, and Ryan noticed something very weird — Quinn’s voice had begun changing throughout the laugh; it sounded older.
Quinn’s physical features seemed to be changing as well. White hair had sprouted out of his previously bald scalp. His face took on the look of a few more years, and now had more of a red complexion to it.
Not knowing what was going on, Ryan stood paralyzed with fear as Quinn started saying the words “the Falcons are soft, the Falcons aren’t tough.” Once his face took on its full transformation, Ryan watched with wide eyes as head coach Mike Smith stood in front of him.
Suddenly, everything had made sense to Ryan. He could feel a sort of redundancy to his career — a strong start to a new coaching era: home playoff games and post season success in those first few years. Then, everything spectacularly collapsing behind a terrible defense.
“HE NEVER LEFT! HE NEVER LEFT!” screamed a frantic Ryan as he came to the powerless realization.