What if the team had won that game?
Well, it’d have come with more ramifications than you might be aware of.
The 2014 Falcons were a ticking time bomb, a team that flashed promise at the start of the year only to fade out into irrelevancy as the season wore on.
Though, somehow, the spirit of playoff hope still burned as they got close to season’s end, and a dumpster fight with a then-6-7-1 Panthers team the deciding factor to see who would win the decrepit 2014 NFC South. If Atlanta wins it (at home, mind you), they go 7-9 and host a playoff game.
Of course, Atlanta lost the game and wound up going 6-10. The season ended with Smith, the head coach since 2008 and most-winning head coach in the franchise’s history, canned and Dimitroff barely kept on. The Panthers loss paved the way for the fast-and-physical Dan Quinn era of Falcons football, one that’s produced an NFC Championship and a handful of roster cornerstones, among...other things.
Let’s imagine Atlanta wins the game against Carolina. The Falcons would’ve crept into the 2014 playoffs and hosted an Arizona Cardinals team with Ryan Lindley at the quarterback position. They very likely win that game, giving the team a home playoff victory and most likely saving Smith’s job.
They probably don’t make it past the divisional round, though, which was a trip to play the Seattle Seahawks at their height under Pete Carroll.
A playoff win would’ve probably kept Smith at the helm of the 2015 Falcons and possibly Dirk Koetter at the offensive coordinator spot. Guys like Steven Jackson and Harry Douglas aren’t locks for release in this world, nor is Justin Blalock.
The Falcons took Vic Beasley with the 2015 first-round pick at No. 8 in real life, a decision which can still be debated to this day. Though, in this world, the team picks 25th for their playoff win. Who knows who they take, but with pass rusher a definite need, don’t be surprised if the team trades up for Shane Ray in this scenario or reaches on Florida St. DE Mario Edwards.
The 2015 Falcons probably wouldn’t have been much better than the 2014 ones, and could’ve seen Arthur Blank make his eventual call a year later.
With Quinn likely taking another job the year prior, the post-2015 coaching cycle was highlighted by guys like Adam Gase, Hue Jackson, Doug Pederson, Ben McAdoo and Chip Kelly. The Falcons job would’ve been the hottest of the bunch. Kelly was just out of Philly, so consider him unlikely. Pederson was also considered a reach at the time of his appointment for the Eagles (but that worked out well, of course).
Let’s say Adam Gase, fresh off his stint working with future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning, gets the job. It would’ve seen the 2016 Atlanta Falcons, led by Gase, heading into an unknown future without Quinn’s dynamic 2016 roster class in tow.
It’s a bit hazy to speculate from there, but we do know Gase struggled in Miami and is now with the Jets as their head coach.
Imagine a future where the Falcons “earn” an unimpressive playoff win, are likely disappointing again in 2015, lose out on a top 2015 draft pick and miss out on hiring Quinn and ride with Gase into a mysterious future. It changes everything we know about the team now and erases seasons of so many highs to pair with some decisive, cutting lows.
Really, losing the last game in 2014 gave the Falcons a new lease on life. Despite DQ’s flaws, he’s been a great steward of the team and the 2016 season is one none of us would trade (save the last game). If they’d won, the team would forever look different and a promising future would’ve been much less certain.