The 37-yard field goal slid through the uprights to give the Falcons a 34-32 victory over division foe Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Just like that, the 2018 season came to a conclusion for the Atlanta Falcons. One that resulted in a 7-9 finish.
It was one that also left a bitter taste in the mouth of players, coaches, fans, and anyone else associated with the Falcons organization. For fifth-year head coach Dan Quinn, it affected his taste buds a little more than others. Somehow, Quinn became a little hungrier. Instead of leaning on the element of complacency, Quinn decided to step to the plate and take a strong hold on what made him a head coach in the first place: guiding a defense.
It’s called Black Monday around the NFL universe. The day after the regular season comes to an end usually begins a carousel of head coaching terminations. Quinn, however, moved on from young coordinators Steve Sarkisian and Marquand Manuel on that day. Even with the number of injuries that piled up to the point of no return, Quinn foresaw enough to feel that a change at those vital positions was needed.
The offensive coordinating spot was eventually given to a familiar face around Flowery Branch in Dirk Koetter. In a move that is often not seen, Quinn named himself Atlanta’s defensive signal caller.
For a moment, flash back to the 2013 season, and you will see Quinn in charge of one of the more dominating defenses the NFL has seen in the last 25 years. A unit of vicious defenders that was No. 1 in total defense, points allowed, and takeaways. They capped off the season with a whitewashing of a Peyton Manning-led offense. Quinn was at the helm of the defense the next season as the Seahawks made another Super Bowl appearance and were on the brink of back-to-back titles.
So it’s no question that Quinn can hold his own on that side of the ball. Need more evidence? Hop back in my time machine as we go back to Week 13 of the 2016 season. A period of the season where Quinn took over defensive play calling duties from then-coordinator Richard Smith. We then saw an extremely young bunch of defenders force 17 turnovers over their final eight games of the season, including the playoffs, after forcing only 12 in the previous 11 games.
In four complete seasons, Quinn has a regular season record of 36-28 with two playoff appearances and an NFC Championship under his belt. Of course many will want to bring up that fourth quarter of Super Bowl 51, which does fall on the shoulders of the head coach. But for the sake of this column, I’ll bypass that. It has been beaten like a drum enough.
Quinn has a lot of factors in his favor entering the 2019 season. For one, he has a very productive tandem in quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones — a tandem that can put up points in bunches. He also has a young thoroughbred in receiver Calvin Ridley, who scored 10 receiving touchdowns during his rookie 2018 season. The defense that Quinn is now coaching is healthy once again and is filled with young athletes in Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Grady Jarrett, Takk McKinley, Desmond Trufant and Isaiah Oliver.
What’s also on his side is time. The record may not look greatly appealing to some, but to have the playoff success he has along with a very patient and reasonable owner gives Quinn some leeway. A playoff-less 2019 campaign may cast a different light on the 2020 season, but there is more than hope that Atlanta will be playoff bound this season.
Another component is the strong staff that is now surrounding Quinn in Atlanta. There are three former NFL head coaches on the staff (OC Dirk Koetter, WR coach Raheem Morris, TE coach Mike Mularkey) and a special assistant (Bob Sutton) with over 40 years of coaching experience. It’s a group of coaching decision makers that provide arguably the best foundation during the Quinn era.
Quinn continues to say all of the right things. If you have watched the NFL long enough, or football in general for that matter, you will know that it’s routine for the head coach to speak the right words at the right times. He used this offseason to focus on the little intricacies that hurt the team last season: improving the offensive line, addressing the time management aspect within the game, and getting healthy as a team.
Optimism is running rampant around the team, and the national media coverage as a whole is feeling the same way about this bunch of Falcons. For Quinn, four seasons of coming up short has sparked an even bigger flame within him. In the hands of Quinn lies what may be a very profitable future ... or one that is devoid of the desired goals.