A few weeks ago, it was a foregone conclusion that Dan Quinn would be out as the Falcons head coach by the end of the season. Owner Arthur Blank even made it seem like he might pull the plug on the whole thing during the bye week, and nobody would have blinked twice had he gone through with it. Atlanta was 1-7 before a matchup with the rival Saints, looking like a team that would best be described as discombobulated.
The Falcons lacked identity. Their offense could no longer replicate the success that existed when Kyle Shanahan was around, and their defense was most known for blowing assignments. Because of that, the energy on the field was non-existent, and the writing was on the wall for their head coach. But over those two weeks between their loss to the Seahawks and their eventual meeting with the Saints, something changed.
Jeff Ulbrich is now calling the defense on first and second downs. Raheem Morris switched from a wide receivers coach back to the secondary and now calls the defense on third downs as well as in two-minute situations. Dan Quinn took a step back and became just the head coach with a focus on the defensive line. And all of a sudden, a different unit emerged.
The Falcons have racked up 11 sacks over the last two weeks, which is only one less than the number of points they have allowed over that stretch. Atlanta, who had one of the worst defenses in football for eight weeks, went on the road – not once but twice – and did not surrender a single touchdown. They forced Kyle Allen to throw four interceptions this past Sunday, which was double the amount of interceptions they had all season coming into the game.
Atlanta looks more than revived; they look like a contender again. Hell, they might be the best team in the NFC as things stand right now; it’s just unfortunate they dug themselves into a 1-7 hole that they won’t be able to recover from. There are too many quality teams in their conference for a 9-7 record to make the playoffs. So even if the Falcons manage to win out, which no longer seems far-fetched, there will be no postseason celebration for the second consecutive season in Atlanta. However, does that mean Dan Quinn will still be out as head coach at season’s end? I’m no longer so sure about that.
A few weeks ago, this was a no brainer, but a turnaround like this also seemed more unlikely than a Quentin Tarantino film without bloodshed. In general, firings around the NFL happen way too hastily. Teams don’t get the results they are looking for immediately, and they blame the head coach. Sometimes that works, but often it sets them back even further. There is nothing easy about completely changing schemes and habits from one year to the next in this league.
The most blatant sign a coach should be fired is when they lose the locker room. After eight weeks, that is what it looked like in Atlanta. But these last two performances prove nobody in the building has given up on Quinn or the coaching staff. Quinn has the team’s respect, and they are busting their asses out there for him while playing for essentially nothing. There’s no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow unless that pot of gold is helping Quinn keep his job for at least one more season.
So is there now a chance that Quinn can hold onto his job heading into 2020? Absolutely. While I’ve long thought he was a lame-duck out there, these past two weeks have shown me, and most importantly, Arthur Blank, that Quinn has what it takes to make adjustments and get this team back on track. Few coaches have been able to accomplish what he has over his five seasons in Atlanta. Quinn has proven he can put this team in a position to win a Super Bowl already. If the locker room still has this much respect for him – after all that has taken place – it might be best if Blank were to stick with his head man for at least one more season and see if his team can carry this momentum into next year.