Dan Quinn has Falcons back on track after second straight dominant win as hot seat begins to cool
The Falcons followed up a rout of the Saints with another huge win over the Panthers in Week 11
Dan Quinn's seat had never been warmer than it was three weeks ago and he knew it.
The fifth-year coach of the Atlanta Falcons was 1-7 heading into the bye week, and the always-supportive team owner was forced to publicly declare he wasn't afraid of making a change if things didn't turn around soon.
A few assistant coaching maneuvers later and the Falcons have won two straight against NFC South opponents with a plus-43 scoring margin and positive turnover differential. It's afforded Quinn the slightest bit of breathing room and ability to reflect on how trying that Week 9 truly was.
"It goes with the territory and it's human nature. Everybody gets calls saying hang in there," Quinn told me Sunday night after Atlanta's 29-3 undressing of the Carolina Panthers. "I'd rather spend all our time to fix it to get it right as opposed to what if we don't. It's easier said than done, trust me. I recognize there's comments and you hear people say, 'Don't worry about it,' or 'Block it out.' Yeah, you be the person.
"But I do know for me the only thing I can control is trying to solve it, fix it and trying to get us to play like we're capable of."
A wild Week 11 is almost in the books and there's a lot to go over. Fortunately Will Brinson, John Breech, Ryan Wilson and Sean Wagner-McGough are here to break everything down on the Pick Six Podcast. Listen below and be sure to subscribe right here for daily NFL goodness fired into your eardrums.
Before the Falcons' two-game streak, Atlanta was beside Chicago for the dishonor of being the league's most disappointing team. In 2018 you could blame a rash of injuries and an offensive coordinator in over his head for the Falcons finishing 7-9 and never figuring it out. But this year's group featured talent at every important position on the field and had still limped to a 1-7 start.
It had forced Julio Jones to speak to his teammates in another losing locker room in October. It pushed team owner Arthur Blank to speak to the media on more than one occasion. First, he voiced support for Quinn and noted how the players respect and support him. Following the seventh loss of the season, the tone got more stern.
"We'll take the next couple of weeks during this bye period and evaluate where we are," Blank told reporters after the 27-20 loss in Seattle. "And whatever decision we have to make will be made for the right reasons for the long term.
"I'm not bashful about making those decisions."
Quinn said he's upset Blank was ever put in the position, by virtue of the team's performance, to have to make those comments. Blank was going to give Quinn the bye week to get things figured out, but a team source had indicated to me then that Blank could pull the trigger on Quinn if the games against New Orleans and Carolina went poorly.
Seeking greater communication in the defensive backfield in particular, Quinn shuffled three assistant coaches coming out of the bye. Assistant head coach/receivers coach Raheem Morris switched sides and began working with the secondary. That domino effect sent running backs coach Dave Brock to receivers and offensive assistant Bernie Parmalee to running backs. He took the plan not only to his coaches but also players who would be directly impacted -- Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Devonta Freeman -- and got their thoughts before executing the change.
Immediately, Quinn said, he heard better communication with the defensive backs thanks to Morris, a former head coach who has spent the majority of his career on the defensive side of the ball. A Falcons team that was minus-11 in turnover differential before the bye is now plus-three in the past two games.
What was joked about as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic has worked out so far for the Falcons.
"To me, on the outside, I can't control any of those comments," Quinn said. "I can only say does this help our team perform and prepare better? And if it does, then that's what's needed to be done. This is what the team needs right now."
In truth, Quinn felt some optimism before those changes were made. He said the second half of the Seahawks game was the first time all season that "all three phases were playing complementary football." With Matt Schaub at quarterback, the Falcons were in a 24-0 hole going into the third quarter but outscored the Seahawks 20-3 in the second half and forced three second-half punts from Seattle. Since then, the Falcons have beaten the Saints (with Drew Brees back) 26-9 and the Panthers 29-3. So in the past 10 quarters of football, the Falcons are outscoring opponents 75-15.
Quinn has decided to break the second half of the season into two blocks. The first block sees the Falcons face four divisional opponents, capped by a Thanksgiving game against the Saints. Two games at home and two on the road. After Thanksgiving, Quinn will take a full inventory of the changes made and where the team will go for the final quarter of the season.
The best these Falcons can do is 9-7, and it's almost certain to not be enough to make the playoffs. This will likely be the third time in five seasons Quinn has missed the postseason, and short of reeling off eight straight wins, it's difficult to imagine a scenario where he's in this post in 2020.
When I asked him what the path forward is, Quinn said he can't get too far ahead of himself. The Falcons have the 3-7 Buccaneers next weekend before a short week has them hosting the Saints on the holiday.
"We have two games to go until that big evaluation," Quinn said. "We don't have the luxury of looking any further than that. We're the ones who dug us into this hole and we're going to be the ones to get us out of it."
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