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  1. The fact that the Falcons lost their opening game doesn’t guarantee they’re going to miss the playoffs again this season, nor that owner Arthur Blank is going to clean house. They lost their season opener in 2016 (to Tampa Bay coaches Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith) and then went on to finish 11-5 and reached the Super Bowl in a year when they were expected to go 7-9. So as tormented Atlanta sports fans project an image of the future that hasn’t happened yet, there’s hope to cling to. The difference between 2016 and 2020 is Dan Quinn was in only his second season as head coach four years ago. Even if his team fizzled and flopped, he was going to be given some latitude by owner Arthur Blank. He was given control of the 53-man roster and significant say in personnel and staffing decisions when he was hired from Seattle, so it followed that Blank would give him time to build the team and the culture that he wanted. That isn’t the case now. Quinn has had time. He was extended a lifeline after consecutive 7-9 non-playoff seasons, and in both years, the team started poorly. It’s why the Falcons’ disappointing showing in a 38-25 home loss to Seattle figures so prominently in Quinn’s job status. Blank sat and watched the game, masked up, from his suite in a mostly empty Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He wasn’t readily available for comment as he often is following games because there was no in-person news conference for him to attend, given protocols during the pandemic. It’s unlikely he’ll be made available to the media for questions about the team in the immediate future because he’s only doing interviews that are focused on subjects addressed in his new book, “Good Company.” (as he did with The Athletic two weeks ago). It’s also logical to assume Blank would rather let the season play out at least a few weeks before commenting publicly on Quinn. As a general rule, I don’t like speculating on coaches losing their jobs. The fact that I’m addressing this subject after only Week 1 may seem extreme. But this isn’t a normal season, and Blank isn’t a passive owner. He is not likely to let his team get buried early again, as it did with a 1-7 start in 2019. He came close to firing Quinn at midseason but opted to wait until at least after the Falcons’ game in New Orleans following their bye week. But then the Falcons stunned the Saints 26-9 in their best performance of the season, and an unexpected 6-2 second half unfolded. Quinn was saved. Blank likely won’t give Quinn so much room for error this season. The Falcons’ next three games are at Dallas, home against Chicago and at Green Bay. If they rebound, all is good. But if they play poorly and emerge with a record of 0-4 or 1-3, the owner may feel the need to make a change and respond to pressure from fans. Blank is not nearly as reactive as a sports owner as he used to be. Maybe it’s because of his age (he turns 78 in less than two weeks). Maybe it’s because he is more accustomed to the ups-and-downs of sports ownership. As I wrote in December when he confirmed Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff would be retained for another year, the old version of Blank would’ve cleaned house, but the new one is more likely to clinging to hope. But he remains very image-conscious. He cares about perceptions and certainly about fans. He certainly hasn’t balked at firing coaches or front office staff before. He understands how dramatically the Falcons have shifted off center stage in Atlanta since the Super Bowl season and the economic ramifications that go with that. As much as he likes Quinn personally, it’s unlikely Blank will hesitate to make a change this time because he knows doing so would make him seem unresponsive to fans (“stakeholders,” as he refers to them). He doesn’t want to see empty seats or hear boos in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The reason the first four games are so important is what follows on the schedule. Game 5 is Oct. 11 at home against Carolina, which is the Falcons’ most beatable opponent until, well, Game 8 at Carolina. The home game against the Panthers also may be the first game the team allows a limited number of fans to attend. Theoretically, it’s a good window to bring in an interim coach. It’s not the easy opening of a bye week when coaching changes are often made, but the Falcons’ bye isn’t until Nov. 15 (after nine games). Or Blank could sit and wait again. The schedule certainly eases up after the Green Bay game. There’s the home-and-home against Carolina, home against Detroit and Denver and at Minnesota. After nine games, it’s a replay of a year ago: a bye followed by a game at New Orleans. A late-season surge is even less likely than a year ago. Post bye, the Falcons play the Saints twice, Tampa Bay and Tom Brady twice, at Kansas City, at the Los Angeles Chargers and home against Las Vegas. The Falcons weren’t horrible against Seattle. But it was disconcerting to see some of the same problems of a year ago. The offense moved the ball but managed just one touchdown and 12 points in the first three quarters when the game was decided. Their defense showed an improved pass rush (three sacks), but the secondary exhibited several problems in coverage, Consider the final stat line of Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson: 31 for 35, 322 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions, an efficiency rating of 143.1. (You don’t need to understand how an efficiency rating works, just know that 158.3 is considered perfect.) The defense did not force a turnover, after finishing tied for 19th in 2019 (and 20th and 27th the previous two years). Atlanta looked closer to the team that started 1-7 in 2019 than the one that finished 6-2. Nobody expected a 1-7 start after the opening loss at Minnesota last season. Quinn prefers not looking back, but said, “I was extremely pissed after Game 1 last year. I think there’s probably a difference between discouragement and disappointment. When you’re discouraged, there’s some things (that have) to change. There were things in this game you would like to have over, the fourth downs, the turnover margin. There were also things I wanted to see improvement on. I expect us to make improvement as we go on.” Last year, he shook up the defensive coaching staff midway through the season, removing himself as the defensive coordinator. He said he wouldn’t hesitate to make changes again. “I would never have a hesitation in that space. It’s always all about the performance. I do sense this group is going to get better and better as we’re going.” The Falcons need to. He needs to. He may not be given as much time to turn it around again. https://theathletic.com/2067834/2020/09/15/schultz-arthur-blank-may-not-give-dan-quinn-as-much-room-for-error-this-time/
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