Goober Pyle Posted December 16, 2019 Share Posted December 16, 2019 https://theathletic.com/1462936/2019/12/15/schultz-after-another-upset-win-its-worth-wondering-if-dan-quinn-has-saved-his-job/ SANTA CLARA, Calif. — When the Falcons stumbled and bumbled and dragged themselves through the first half of the season with a 1-7 record, head coach Dan Quinn’s firing appeared imminent. New Orleans waited for them on the other side of bye, and Quinn was close enough to his personal finish line that there was a debate in the executive suite about the best timing for his official exit. It’s futile to guess about the future now. When the Falcons rallied from a 19-10 deficit to defeat San Francisco 29-22 on Sunday, it was their second road upset of a double-digit favorite in the past six weeks — the other stunning win coming in New Orleans — and raised them to 4-2 since the 1-7 start. When Quinn entered the locker room with music blaring after the game, he shouted to his players, “Nuts and guts!” It fit. Regardless of where anybody stands in the debate about Quinn’s future, it’s undeniable his players have exhibited both of late. They have put themselves in position to go 6-2 in the second half if they can close with wins over Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, even if they won’t make the playoffs and their final record will still tip to the left. It’s now worth asking: Did Dan Quinn just save his job? “I don’t know,” said Ricardo Allen, a team captain who has been firmly in Quinn’s corner. “I hope so. I know I want him to be here. But it ain’t got nothing to do with me. All I can do is try to lead these boys and help him however I can. I pray that he’s here, but that decision isn’t going to be made by me or any player.” That decision will be made by owner Arthur Blank. He was decidedly leaning toward making a change at midseason. Had the Falcons been blown out at New Orleans, as most expected, Quinn might have been gone the following week. But they beat the Saints 26-9 as 13½-point underdogs. Then came a 29-3 win at Carolina. Any discussions of the scheduling of a firing news conference were tabled. I approached Blank about Quinn after last week’s win second win over Carolina. Blank said he wasn’t leaning in any one direction about his coach. “We’ve got games left. Let’s see how this plays out,” he told me. As usual, Blank attended Quinn’s postgame news conference Sunday. He left immediately after congratulating his coach, not pausing where he might be stopped for comment. Predicting anything at this point, whether it’s how the Falcons finish or whether that finish impacts Quinn’s future, is futile. But Blank’s demeanor throughout this difficult season has been a stark contrast from 2014, sources told The Athletic. The Falcons went 4-12 in 2013, then started 2-6 the following season, sealing the fate of then-head coach Mike Smith. It was soon after when Blank retained a search firm for a new coach, word of which leaked out before the Falcons still mathematically had a chance to win the NFC South in a down season for the division. (Carolina went to the playoffs with a 7-8-1 record.) Blank has been urged in the background to not rush into a firing until seeing how players respond down the stretch and whether Quinn’s coaching staff shuffle improves things. Evidence of improvement is clear. Whether that’s enough to save Quinn remains uncertain. But those closest to Blank reaffirmed to The Athleticthat he has struggled with this decision emotionally, not just because Quinn is a likable guy but because it wasn’t long ago when the coach was being celebrated for nearly leading the Falcons to a Super Bowl title in only his second season in 2016. After Quinn’s news conference, I asked him off stage if it appears to him that his players are trying to save his job. “You’d have to ask those guys,” he said. “But it’s really cool. I’m proud to be a part of it.” What did Sunday’s win mean to him? “It means a lot. It means a lot to all of us,” he said. “We’re all fighting for our football lives. I **** sure appreciate it.” San Francisco has been a significantly better team than Atlanta all season. The 49ers, coached by former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, entered the game as the NFC’s No. 1 seed. But for most of Sunday, it was difficult to tell the difference between the 11-2 team and the 4-9 team. Even when trailing 19-10 with 10 minutes left, the Falcons never looked out of it. They drove 75 yards to a touchdown to make it a two-point game. Later, with 1:48 left and trailing 22-17, Matt Ryan drove the offense 70 yards for a touchdown. A 25-yard pass to Julio Jones moved them to the Niners’ 25. On second-and-goal from the 5, Ryan appeared to hit Austin Hooper for the go-ahead score with five seconds left. But the touchdown was nullified by replay officials, who ruled Hooper dropped the ball. (It didn’t look that way.) On the next play, Ryan connected with Jones. On-field officials ruled he was stopped just before the goal line. But this time, the Falcons were awarded the touchdown after replay showed the ball breaking the plane of the end zone. Regardless of how those final two plays swung, the Falcons were going to be deserving of credit for their performance. The defense, in particular, has improved significantly since assistant Raheem Morris was shifted to a quasi-defensive coordinator role. Shanahan’s offense basically was limited to one touchdown drive because the 49ers’ other touchdown was set up by a fumble by punt returner Kenjon Barner on the Falcons’ 1. So what should we take from all this? “Records aren’t indicative of what a team is made of,” Hooper said. “We have a lot of fight, we have a lot of grit, we got a lot of talent on this team. Just because we messed it up in the past doesn’t mean we have to mess it up all the way.” Allen stood alone in front of his locker after speaking to a group of reporters. He was the one who always addressed the media after defeats and now feels the most gratified by the rebound. “This shows that we’re fighters, and we’ll fight for Coach Q no matter what the situation is,” he told The Athletic. “We didn’t start the way we wanted to. We understand we may be fighting for nothing. We may not be playing for the playoffs or anything. But we’re fighting for our names, we’re playing for who we are, we’re playing for Quinn. This may not be the year that we wanted, but we’re never going to back down. We’re fighting now.” Too late to save a season. But maybe not a coach. 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