FLOWERY BRANCH--The other day I wondered what Kyle Shanahan was thinking with his play-calling strategy late in the Super Bowl. Now I also wonder, and not for the first time: Does Dan Quinn get why it was bad strategy?
Here’s what Quinn had to say two days later after Shanahan’s egregious play-calling cost the Falcons a chance to kick what almost certainly would have been the game-clinching field goal.
“You think it’s going to be the right (call) there, for sure,” Quinn said. “I don’t disagree with the call. As it turns out, the outcome is what gets you.”
This is backwards. The call was bad and, with a chance to kick a game-clinching field goal, the only outcomes that matter are (in order) losing the ball, losing yards and not stopping the clock. The Falcons increased the probability of all three bad outcomes when Shanahan opted to pass.
To recap: The Falcons, leading 28-20, had a second-and-11 at the 23-yard line with four minutes to go. You know the rest: Ryan took a 13-yard sack, a holding penalty pushed the Falcons further back and, after another incomplete pass, they punted.
The sequence ran just 12 seconds off the clock and forced the Patriots to use just one of their three timeouts. And then Tom Brady did his thing.
Shanahan’s explanation — "You don't think, just run the ball and make your guy kick a 50-yard field goal”— is myopic and inaccurate. A field goal from the 23-yard line would have been about 40 yards, not 50, and Bryant is 78 percent for his career from 40 to 49 yards and was 9-for-9 this season.
Nor was there any good reason to go for a touchdown in that situation. With so little time remaining, being ahead 15 points as opposed to 11 would not really make much difference. Not even Brady is likely to win down 11 with (roughly) 3:30 to play and one timeout.
Shanahan may get caught up in the minutiae of play-calling, but it's Quinn's job to manage the big picture. He obviously should have overruled Shanahan when he heard a pass play in his headset. Yet Quinn still doesn’t seem to recognize this.
- What was Kyle Shanahan thinking?
- Anatomy of a collapse: How the Falcons blew it
- What happens to Quinn's brotherhood when it's about business?
- Why Dan Quinn hurt the Falcons by not going for it on fourth down
It reminds me of Quinn’s decision to kick a field goal from the 1-yard line at San Francisco in 2015. Quinn eventually said he regretted that call, but offered a qualitative reason: He sent the team the wrong message by not being aggressive. But he should have regretted it because, as I wrote at the time, making the field goal decreased his team's chances of winning the game more than going for the fourth down and failing.
Similar logic applies to that fateful sequence in the Super Bowl. Quinn said the play called had Julio Jones as the primary option, but that’s irrelevant. The optimal play was to hand the ball off twice and kick the field goal. Do that, and it’s almost certain that the Falcons would be Super Bowl champions.
Quinn is a very good coach. I might be skeptical of the “brotherhood” stuff — it seems too rah-rah college for professionals — but the players seem to have bought into it. I think Quinn deserves major credit for identifying, acquiring and developing the Falcons’ young defensive talent.
Maybe Quinn knows he messed up by not overruling Shanahan but doesn’t want to say so publicly. Falcons supporters should hope that’s the case because the alternative is that Quinn really doesn’t get it.
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