Having completed another triumphant season that saw them finish second in a division where only one team broke .500, the Atlanta Falcons' indispensable brain trust held a press briefing Monday. The intent was to look ahead to that time when their team might again have an actual winning season. The effect was, as ever, a heaping helping of happy talk.
Perhaps you believe starting 1-7 was bad. Not so fast, my friend! It tested the Falcons’ mettle!
Said Dan Quinn, still employed, still chipper: “This season was the hardest but most invaluable for me as a coach.”
Also: “As much as it sucked, there’s a lot to be gained from that.”
Also: “The identity of our team came through. They’re fighters.”
Also: “I want to get rocking right away.”
Sure he does. Quinn is the kind of guy who, when about to roll the DQ domicile’s recycle bin to the curb, says: “I can’t wait to roll this bin to the curb!” He’s the world’s most cheerful man, and that’s a fine thing to be. That said: After five years of ceaseless cheer, we still aren’t sure if he can coach. That’s not such a fine thing.
The 2019 Falcons were nowhere close to being good. Sixteen clubs — half the league — finished with a better record. They were the third team eliminated from postseason consideration. They wound up three games behind the NFC’s second wild card. They were outscored on the season. They didn’t spend a week above .500. They finished 7-9 for a second year running.
Last year it took a season-ending three-game winning streak to manage that; this time a 6-2 second half was required. Two of those six victories came against Carolina, which fired Ron Rivera; a third came against Jacksonville, which almost fired Doug Marrone; a fourth was due to the legendary largesse of Jameis Winston. The Falcons’ closing burst left them six games behind New Orleans in the NFC South, exactly where they finished in 2018.
Is this progress? After firing three (of three) coordinators this time a year ago? Quinn conceded such sweeping change took a chunk out of the team’s continuity, which has become the Falcons’ watchword — rather conveniently, you’d have to say — and is the reason Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff were back at the podium Monday, as opposed to posting resumes on Monster.
Quinn: “It took a really long time for us to get our whole act together with complementary football.”
About that: “Complementary football” is a newish buzz-phrase. Perhaps it even means something.
A confession: I know I’ve become a bit — OK, more than a bit — of a bore regarding the Falcons and their foibles. I considered making a New Year’s resolution to go easier on this organization. I rejected that for two reasons: First, I’d be being dishonest because, second, I have no idea what this club is trying to do. Every purported solution seems to involve the redeployment of Raheem Morris. If he’s that important, why not make him head coach and be done with it?
Oh, I’ve forgotten Rich McKay and his new role. Somebody remind me what it is.
Dimitroff: “We have a really good setup on how we communicate and put it all together.”
Asked about the salary cap, against which the Falcons are bumping, Dimitroff said: “It’s not a concern to me.”
About the offensive line, on which the Falcons spent two Round 1 picks last year at the expense of the defense, Dimitroff said: “I love where we are with our developing young (O-linemen).”
A few words about Dimitroff. He has been on the job for two weeks shy of 12 years. He presided over winning seasons his first five years, which was — credit where it’s due — great work. The past seven years have yielded two winning seasons. One of those saw the Falcons reach the Super Bowl, but only twice since 2012 has Dimitroff’s team made the playoffs.
After the 2017 season, which ended with an egregious Divisional Round loss in Philadelphia, the GM proclaimed that the 10-6 Falcons hadn’t underachieved – they’d merely “under-executed.” They’ve since gone 14-18. What convoluted euphemism covers that? “Partially succeeding?” “Not far from winning?” How about “champions of life?”
To his credit, Quinn did say: “There’s no trophy for playing well in the second half.” (Which might be subject to change. This is the organization that gave us Jerry Glanville’s California Trophy.) But, being Dan Quinn, he also averred: “I believe you’ve got to go through these difficult years to get to the good ones. I think this will be a catalyst to a special one.”
Quinn is one of two coaches to take the Falcons to a Super Bowl. He’s also the one who presided over a lost 25-point lead. He’ll never believe this, but I like him a lot. I just don’t know if things here will ever get good for him again, which isn’t to say he won’t get to keep coaching this team. On the Good Ship Falcon, there seems no penalty for, ahem, under-execution. You put on a happy face and try, try again.
“Some things we went through are going to pave the way for the ’20 season,” Quinn said, and I’d love to believe him. Then I remember that the Falcons finished 2018 by winning three in a row? What happened to start 2019?
Matt Ryan was sacked on the first snap in Minneapolis. Matt Bosher’s punt was blocked. Kirk Cousins threw a touchdown pass. All three phases, as Quinn likes to say, failed at the first hurdle, all of them under new management. This seemed un-complementary football. Not much of a carry-over, was it?