It’s now or never for Dan Quinn’s Falcons. Or is it?

Dan Quinn is 43-37 as Falcons head coach, entering the 2020 NFL season.

This is it, right? This has to be it. (Well, doesn’t it?) Since beating Green Bay in the NFC Championship game Jan. 22, 2017, the Falcons are 25-26. Dan Quinn has had more non-winning seasons (three) than winning ones (two). Mike Smith, Quinn’s predecessor, had no non-winning seasons over his first five. Through five seasons, Quinn’s record is 46-39; through five seasons, Smith’s was 57-28.

Smith was fired Dec. 30, 2014, after consecutive losing seasons. Quinn has had consecutive losing seasons but, somehow or another, kept his job. A new season is at hand, and surely — surely, we say — another underwhelming campaign would be the end of this coach’s days in Flowery Branch.

One thing, though: Weren’t we saying the same thing this time a year ago?

Why, yes. We were indeed. We were saying it right up to the point when — two days before their final game — the Falcons announced they weren’t firing Quinn. Why weren’t they? Because of the joys inherent in Continuity, although the 2019 season was anything but an advertisement for the concept.

The Falcons began last season with three new coordinators, one of them Quinn himself. This alleged last-gasp shakeup yielded a 1-7 start. Then they did the thing they do when they can’t think of anything else by redeploying Raheem Morris, a career defensive coach until the Falcons switched him to offense in 2016, and relieving Quinn of defensive play-calling. This enabled them to finish 6-2, which seemed — to many among us, anyway — to prove that these players had grossly underachieved, which is never an endorsement of coaching, whereupon Arthur Blank stumped the band and said, “We’re sticking with these coaches.”

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Oh, and Raheem Morris is now the defensive coordinator.

Blank deemed himself a “more patient” owner, much to the relief of Quinn & Co. but an unfunny joke to Mike Smith, the winningest coach in team history. Two years after blowing a 17-0 lead against the 49ers in the NFC title game, Smitty was gone. Three years after 28-3, Quinn rolls merrily along, still in lockstep with Teflon Thomas Dimitroff, the once-and-apparently-forever general manager.

So: Last year was supposed to be put-up or shut-up. The Falcons went 7-9, which wasn’t what anyone had in mind. Blank, however, saw enough over those final eight games to make him believe that the best of Quinn is still ahead. A skeptic — that’s my hand you see raised — would suggest this regime peaked when it was ahead 28-3 on Feb. 5, 2017, everything since having been a slouch toward mediocrity. But Blank liked the way his team Didn’t Quit, although how a team that was Really Trying could fall to 1-7 remains an unsolved mystery.

Mostly, though, Blank likes Quinn. Nothing wrong with that. Quinn’s a fine fellow, and no coach in history has come closer to winning a Super Bowl without winning a Super Bowl than he has. And ownership, as we know, has its privileges. If Blank wants to name Quinn coach-for-life, he can. That said, clinging to DQ has left the Falcons in an odd place.

Their two best players are 35 and 31. Morris is the fourth official defensive coordinator since 2015, and this doesn’t count Quinn’s takeover from Richard Smith in December 2016 or Quinn’s handover to assistants Jeff Ulbrich and Morris at the midway point last year. Some of the big-name DQ Guys drafted under this regime — Vic Beasley, De’Vondre Campbell, Duke Riley — already are gone.

If you scan the breadth of this roster, you espy a team more in transition than on the cusp of greatness. The five scorers of those infamous 28 points are Falcons no longer. Three-fifths of that excellent offensive line has changed. So long as there’s Matt Ryan to throw and Julio Jones to catch – and so long as roughly 20% of the salary cap is devoted to those two – hope remain that there’s still lightning in the proverbial bottle. Question is, have we already seen that lightning?

Take away the Super Bowl year, and Quinn is 33-33. Take away one season of utter offensive brilliance – as coordinated by Kyle Shanahan, who has since built a Super Bowl team elsewhere – and this regime has accomplished little of note. The impression that these Falcons have been undercoached keeps being seconded by the Falcons themselves. Why else fire three coordinators on one New Year’s Eve? Why, having changed three coordinators, is another reset required halfway through the next seasons?

We can’t say that Blank doesn’t pay attention. He attends every game. He meets with Quinn the day after every game. He’s a smart guy. He knows what questions to ask. And maybe he’s right and we naysayers are wrong: Maybe all this team needs is a tad more continuity. As this make-or-break season begins, we shouldn’t lose sight of the obvious. It’s only a make-a-break season for Quinn if his employer says it is. So far he hasn’t.

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