The debate over who is ultimately responsible for the bungled onside kick at the end of Falcons-Cowboys is probably going to continue forever. We haven’t heard from the players involved, but I doubt they’ll throw anybody under the bus the way others on this team have elected to do.
First up was Dan Quinn, who insisted the players knew the rules and needed to make an aggressive play on the ball, something that raises a host of questions about why they wouldn’t make that play. Then it was Arthur Blank, who opined in a radio interview Monday that the players didn’t know what they needed to do or what the rules were, something that if true would be incredibly damning on multiple levels.
Here’s the quote from Blank, who spoke on SiriusXM NFL Radio to Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller last night.
“And clearly on the last play of the game yesterday our players, you know, didn’t do what they, you know, either what they were instructed to do and they didn’t understand it, or, it’s clear though they didn’t, in my view, they didn’t clearly understand what the rules were and exactly what they had to do. I think that’s demonstrated when you watch the video of it.”
This is an opinion from Blank, I’d carefully note, who appears to be basing it off of the same obsessive, why god watching of the video that so many of us have engaged in. He’s relatable! But if he truly believes that’s the case, he has to be looking askance at Dan Quinn right now, given that getting your players coached up and ready for any situation is a major component of his and the staff’s jobs. That’s not to absolve players from any responsibility—as many have noted, they teach you that you can pick up the onside kick as the receiving team before 10 yards well before you sniff the NFL—but this is the kind of deeply amateur mistake that a coaching staff in year 6 can’t be presiding over.
For what it’s worth, the more I watch the video—I’m up to 40 times, and that might be a low estimate—the more I find it implausible that the team didn’t know the rules. I could buy that from Zaccheaus, Hurst, and Graham, who are younger players with less experience, and players who would not have seen that unusual kick before. But I find it much harder to believe that Neasman, a player with 770 career special teams snaps in Atlanta and a player whose intelligence and savvy on special teams have been well-noted, would not know what to do in that situation. Hell, Julio Jones was around, too, and it seems implausible he wouldn’t know what to do.
It seems likelier that a combination of specific instructions from a coaching staff hyper-anxious about a player touching and not coming away with the ball before 10 yards, plus the oddness of the kick itself, conspired to make the Falcons hesitate longer than they had any right to. Nothing is going to make me feel better about that—or blowing the game more broadly—but clarity would help me feel less bewildered about it.
We may never actually know, though. As Blanks also noted in his interview, there are 14 games left and an opportunity for the Falcons to dig out of this hole in an NFC South that’s looking weaker than anticipated thus far. To do so, they can’t have any more moments like this.