That game, a 48-21 loss, was a barn burner for Quinn and his upstart Falcons. We had gone from whatever disaster plagued the team in 2014, and felt optimistic for the future.
Things were good again.
Then came a collapse, and wonder about what on Earth kept the team from its 5-0 heyday that year. Quinn’s honeymoon ended pretty fast as the team slid down to 8-8 and felt a bit unsure about where things were going.
Then things were good again.
The 2016 season was a special year for this franchise, and brought it only its second NFC Championship. It closed out the Georgia Dome with the greatest game in franchise history.
You thank Kyle Shanahan for that, for certain, but you also thank Quinn. His Brotherhood built an unassailable culture that year, and that combined him coaxing a bit more out of the defense,Shanny’s brilliant scheming and some awesome play from the roster overall made the team the toast of the NFC.
Yes, the Super Bowl put a gigantic asterisk on that, the worst game in franchise history that followed the former, and it’s that cruel dichotomy that leaves us where we are: in the middle.
All these years later, we’ve waited on the Quinn-Shanny Falcons to come back. We got a brief glimpse of something more in 2016, and we’ve gotten brief glimpses of it since.
But that’s just it, brief glimpses. It’s now looking like the Falcons have been on a steady decline since Super Bowl 51, with the team spiking and flattening in a direction that ultimately points down.
The offense had its moments under Steve Sarkisian, Shanny’s replacement, but never really found its footing consistently and could never live up to Shanny’s amazing vision.
Firing Sark came as a foregone conclusion, and re-hiring Dirk Koetter has proven so far to be disastrous.
Quinn now calls one of the worst defenses in the NFL after he let go of Marquand Manuel this past fall, and his Keith Armstrong-less special teams unit just isn’t anything special without him.
It’s fair to wonder if it’s that failure to find another coach the caliber of Shanahan, in others and in himself, that will ultimately lead to Quinn’s removal from his job and his team, on a whole, being so mediocre.
Every time a coach is fired is a sad occasion, a professional failure for someone who has worked tirelessly to make things work. It hurts them far, far more than it hurts us to see this team flatline like it has. The Falcons aren’t our lives; for Quinn, it’s his life’s work at the moment.
But his failure to find another offensive coordinator to run the shop while he focuses on a defense he only ever really got a hold of for a season-and-a-half and his vanilla scheming that opponents call out as easy to exploit will likely be the story when the team makes its inevitable changes this winter.
And change is coming
This team looks like it’s doomed for another revamp. After 2017, you just hoped deep down that they needed a season before returning to greatness. But it was the greatness that wasn’t what could last. When the team lost Shanahan, Quinn lost what made his system and culture work. That was obvious to some fans then, and it’s obvious to nearly all of us now.
He needed someone to soar with the offense so he could focus on the general operation. His defense just isn’t cutting it anymore and never really did outside of spurts, but they could live with a lackluster defense if the offense was boiling teams every week.
Now, it’s Quinn’s team in totality, and who he’s picked to run this team—including himself—doesn’t inspire confidence that he’ll find answers. He’s firmly on the hot seat.
Right now, all there is to say is that it’s probably over. Quinn tried his darndest to make this work, and he deserves all the respect in the world for what he was able to accomplish here. But this is his team, and, incredibly sadly, his team has failed.
We’re headed toward a change, and we’re headed toward an end of an era. Let’s hope the new one will be worth waiting for.