It’s been a tortured existence for Falcons fans since...well, pretty much the beginning of the franchise. The team didn’t have it’s first back-to-back winning seasons until 2008-2009, and didn’t reach it’s first Super Bowl until 1998. Since the Mike Smith era, the Falcons have generally been a respectable franchise with a consistent winning record. But one thing has followed them throughout the Mike Smith era and now into Dan Quinn’s regime: their penchant for blowing big leads.
Fair or not, Atlanta picked up the moniker of “playoff choke artists” under Mike Smith. It even unfairly extended to Matt Ryan, for a time, and has continued to put a damper on his otherwise incredible career. The Falcons were one-and-done three times in four seasons under Smith, sometimes losing truly embarrassing games like the 48-21 shellacking at the hands of the Packers in 2010, or the 24-2 stinker to the Giants in 2011.
The team finally broke through in 2012, winning on a last-second FG in the divisional round. But their penchant for blowing games followed them, as Atlanta gave up a 17-0 lead and failed to score a single point in the second half of the NFC Championship, losing to the 49ers 28-24. It was a tough end to a magical season for the Falcons, but these choke artists were just getting started.
Mike Smith finally found himself ousted after missing the playoffs in both 2013 and 2014—a general rule-of-thumb for Arthur Blank. If you miss the playoffs two years in a row, you’re out. It’s a fair rule that doesn’t penalize coaches for an off year, or catastrophic injuries, or the like. It was the same treatment that Jim Mora got, and before him, Dan Reeves. Keep this rule in mind for Dan Quinn, who we’re about to discuss.
Dan Quinn came to the team in 2015 to much fanfare. The penchant for blowing leads continued, however, as Quinn started 5-0 that season only to finish 3-8 and miss the playoffs. The dark cloud hanging over the regime quickly vanished due to a historic and magical 2016 season which saw the best-ever incarnation of the Atlanta Falcons. The offense was magnificent and the defense was, for the first time in awhile, good enough.
Even with one of the best offenses the NFL had ever seen, the Falcons couldn’t get it done. Their penchant for blowing leads reared it’s ugly head in the worst way imaginable, as Atlanta failed to hold on after building an infamous 28-3 advantage over the Patriots. If you wanted to find the most painful possible outcome of a game for a fan, look no further than that abomination.
But still, the team was fantastic. A really, really, really bad loss didn’t take away from the fact that Atlanta had the NFL’s best offense and a young, emerging defense...right? Well, in 2017, that seemed to be the case. While new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was mediocre at best in his debut, the defense was actually good. Quinn made the playoffs and won another playoff game, coming very close to another NFC Championship appearance. Confidence was high for this team to be a consistent competitor.
Then 2018 happened, and the cracks in the armor began to show. The Falcons were absolutely ravaged by injuries, losing all their best defensive players in the span of a few weeks. Quinn’s defense was a disaster as a result, and the team struggled mightily on their way to a 7-9 record. Still, you could—fairly—blame catastrophic injuries for messing up the season. It would have been reasonable, even. Instead, Quinn chose to blame his coordinators, firing an improving Steve Sarkisian and Marquand Manuel.
This was the point where the Falcons changed from “injury-ravaged contender” to “complete disaster”. Quinn chose to hire the recently-fired Dirk Koetter to run Shanahan’s offense, and installed himself as DC. Koetter, who had never run a west coast scheme in his life, now had to learn it and implement it in only a few months. Still, hopes were high for a return to health and a belief in Quinn’s ability to fix the defense.
2019 should’ve been all you needed to see to know that this staff was a complete joke. Dan Quinn’s defense was the worst in the league, or close enough to it that it didn’t matter. Dirk Koetter predictably struggled to run an offense he had never coached before. Quinn was faring so poorly that he had to step down as DC and hand the job to Raheem Morris, who had previously been the WRs coach. If these moves all sound like the moves of an incredibly dysfunctional team to you, you’d be right.
The Falcons were 1-7 and one of the cellar-dwellers of the NFL at the bye. Arthur Blank made the decision to wait until the end of the season to decide Quinn’s fate. Fine, that’s generally been his style. Predictably, the Falcons didn’t make the playoffs, but the team was better and Quinn finished with a 6-2 record. Despite the strong finish, Quinn broke Blank’s rule: he had missed the playoffs in two consecutive seasons. The writing was on the wall for him to be fired.
But the firing never came. Blank broke his own rule, deciding instead to keep Quinn. Very few changes were made to the coaching staff. The Falcons elected to “run it back” again. So here we are, in 2020, doing the same thing we’ve been doing since 2018. And, predictably, we’re getting the same results. The Falcons are now 0-2 after an embarrassing Week 1 blowout at the hands of the Seahawks, and a catastrophic meltdown in Week 2 against the Cowboys.
I’m not here to go in depth about what went wrong on Sunday. It’s been well covered here by our other excellent writers. I’m here to say that I think I speak for all of us when I say: we’ve had enough. Atlanta is now a national laughingstock again due to a blown lead. The same problems keep cropping up, and it’s become abundantly clear that those in charge either don’t know how to fix them, or aren’t capable of fixing them.
At this point, I really don’t care if Quinn pulls off another strong finish to the season. The Falcons are going nowhere with him and Thomas Dimitroff at the helm of the team. We need wholesale change, or the Falcons will continue to choke away every opportunity that comes their way. The sooner the team realizes that bringing this staff back for 2020 was a big mistake, the sooner we can start to move forward.