It’s over. This has become a fait accompli. Whenever Arthur Blank decides to pull the plug — be it this Monday, next Monday headed into the bye week or Black Monday at season’s end — the decision has made itself. Dan Quinn, who came closer to winning a Super Bowl than anyone who hasn’t won a Super Bowl, is no longer capable of steering the Atlanta Falcons to brighter horizons. Heck, he can’t win a game.
The Falcons are 1-6. They’ve lost five in a row. Sunday’s 37-10 loss to the Rams was no worse or no better than those that came before, which is the point. The Falcons opened their season by stinking out the joint in Minneapolis. Six weeks later, they still stink.
Oh, and there’s this: Matt Ryan’s hurt.
The man who never limps off was removed from this calamity after taking a fifth sack, this by Aaron Donald, and staying down. (Ryan also fumbled on the play. Donald recovered.) The face of this franchise moved to the medical tent, then to the locker room. Diagnosis: injured ankle. Prognosis: unclear. Season: gone.
All that remains is to move beyond 2019 and this now-failed regime. Counting playoffs, the Falcons are 19-22 since blowing a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl. On the calendar, Feb. 5, 2017, isn’t so long ago. For this forlorn franchise, it seems forever and a day. The NFL was ready to hand Blank the Lombardi Trophy, and now — two years, eight months and two weeks later — the high-profile owner has a pocketful of nothing.
In Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” a man named Mike is asked how someone goes broke. He says, “Gradually, then suddenly.” We’ve known for a while that the Falcons were poorly coached — Quinn confirmed as much when he fired three coordinators on New Year’s Eve — but they now appear barely coached at all. They show on Sundays, fall way behind and lose. They’ve opted out of Quinn’s beloved Brotherhood. They’re 1-6. What’s left to rally around?
The halftime score against Minnesota was 21-0. The halftime score against the Rams was 13-3. The Falcons have trailed by double figures five times in seven games. They’ve been outscored by 70 points in first halves. They also have no plan, or at least none that works. You wonder what they do all week in Flowery Branch. Is the latest of Quinn’s many slogans, “Practice makes putrid?”
Let’s be clear: These players are here because Quinn wanted them. They’re DQ Guys, to invoke the organizational shorthand. They’re supposed to run fast and hit hard, and many do. Somewhere along the line, they’ve forgotten how to play football. He was handed control of this roster when he arrived. He has been here since February 2015. He can’t say he’s losing with somebody else’s players. DQ is losing with DQ’s guys.
To his credit, Quinn didn’t argue the point. “I certainly think we have all we need to play like we’re capable,” he said Sunday of his defense. He also allowed that defensive play-calling, as of the past two games, is being shared with assistants. What in the name of Marion Campbell is going on here?
How do you go from leading Brady and Belichick 28-3 to leading almost nobody ever? How do you take a team with Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Austin Hooper, Jake Matthews, Alex Mack, Grady Jarrett and Deion Jones and turn it into 1-6?
Quinn: “The disbelief of us not playing at times like we’re capable, that can be very frustrating.”
A wretched season in miniature: Trailing 20-3, the Falcons took their first snap of the third quarter and gained eight yards. On second-and-two, guard James Carpenter was flagged for holding. On second-and-12, Ryan sought to slip an inside screen to Sanu. The ball glanced off Sanu’s hands. The Rams’ Cory Littleton intercepted. A fight ensued. Freeman was ejected for seeking to punch Donald in the face mask. The Rams took the ball at the Atlanta 16. They scored again when Deion Jones tried to tackle quarterback Jared Goff and whiffed. Can’t make this stuff up, folks.
Asked if he felt he’d lost the team, Quinn said he didn’t think so. What’s he going to say? “Heck, they stopped listening to me a couple of years ago”? Instead he offered this: “There’s a level of accountability for all of us.”
Then: “I’m always willing to do what’s best for the team.”
Then: “My ego’s never bigger than the team.”
Nobody doubts that Quinn is a fine fellow who, for a couple of years, appeared destined to lead this team to greatness. He almost got there, but he didn’t. Everything since 28-3 has been diminishing returns, and recent returns are nigh-invisible. (Gradually, then suddenly.) It has all come undone. The Falcons were horrid on offense, on defense and at things involving kicking. All three phases, to use DQ’s pet description.
There’s seldom much gain in firing a coach whose team is 1-6; when you’re that bad, Lombardi himself couldn’t make you good. This, however, seems a time when inaction is imprudent. Nine games remain, and the Quinn question — is he gone yet? — will hang heavy over each one.
Blank said little after this latest loss — “disappointed,” was his word of choice — but he must know it’s time to sever ties with Quinn, even if it’s for the sake of appearances. Because appearances are abominable. The final minutes of this grim tableau had the feel of a second half in an August exhibition. The starting quarterbacks were gone, Mercedes-Benz Stadium was 75 percent empty and nothing mattered. Not even the fumble the Rams recovered for a touchdown with 11 seconds left.
Nine games remain, but the season’s gone. Dan Quinn tried his best, but the DQ Way stopped working a while back. Now everything’s awful and Matt Ryan has a boot on his foot. Gradually, then suddenly, it’s over.
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