ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons returned to work Monday, trying to convey a sense of normalcy in a season that has quickly flown off the rails.
Coach Dan Quinn said all the expected things — no, he’s not fretting about losing his job; yes, he’s sure this is a better team than the first three weeks have shown — but there’s no way to sugarcoat the Falcons’ predicament.
This team is in big trouble.
The Falcons (0-3) are coming off two devastating losses, becoming the first team in NFL history to blow back-to-back games in which they led by at least 15 points in the fourth quarter.
“These last two weeks are as tough and challenging as it can get, certainly during the regular season,” said Quinn, reminding everyone that he also coached a team that squandered a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. “The strength of this group is they’re ready to battle and keep fighting. We’re a tough team that’s ready to fight through this.”
With each passing week, though, Quinn’s words carry less and less weight.
There was plenty of speculation that owner Arthur Blank might make a change within 24 hours of the latest debacle, a 30-26 loss to the Chicago Bears in which the Falcons let a 26-10 lead slip away.
Quinn still has a job for now, but no other coach is under more scrutiny. The only thing he has going for him is that Blank has never fired a coach during the season.
That could change with another loss or two.
“My focus is on (the next game) and there’s no value in discussing it much further than that,” Quinn said. “Nothing’s been decided. You’re wanting so badly for the players to have success and the team to have success that you keep pushing, you keep going. When it doesn’t happen, you want to find out why.”
Calvin Ridley continues to establish himself as one of the game’s top receivers. With Julio Jones sidelined by a hamstring injury and Russell Gage going down in the first half with a concussion, the Bears could turn much of their focus to defending Ridley. He still managed his third straight 100-yard receiving game, making five catches for 110 yards. The bulk of his yardage came on a 63-yard throw that set up Atlanta’s first touchdown. When Jones and Gage are healthy, the Falcons certainly have the makings of an explosive offense.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Unfortunately for the Falcons, the other team gets the ball, too. Atlanta has surrendered an average of 463 yards and 36 points per game, which is especially troubling given that Quinn is supposed to be a defensive-minded coach. The Falcons have allowed nine touchdown passes, 79 first downs and far too many big plays. This team would be 2-1 and in an entirely different place if it had been able to make just a handful of key stops in the fourth quarter.
The offensive line created some big holes for the running game, which produced 144 yards on 25 carries for a 5.8-yard average. Todd Gurley rushed for 80 yards on 14 carries, including a 10-yard touchdown scamper. Brian Hill broke off a 35-yard scoring run. That success on the ground makes the play selection in the fourth quarter even more baffling. On three straight three-and-outs, the Falcons passed the ball six times and ran it only three, taking less than 3 minutes off the clock while trying to nurse a lead.
The Falcons had high hopes for cornerback Isaiah Oliver after a strong finish in 2019, but the third-year player has shown little signs of it carrying over to this season. Oliver has struggled in all three games, his biggest miscue Sunday coming when he failed to bring down receiver Allen Robinson after a short completion that turned into a 37-yard touchdown, helping fuel Chicago’s fourth-quarter comeback.
The Falcons are hurting. They played Sunday without six starters: Jones, offensive tackle Kaleb McGary (knee), defensive end Takk McKinley (groin), safety Ricardo Allen (elbow), linebacker Foye Oluokun (hamstring) and rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell (COVID-19 reserve list). Another key part of their pass coverage, cornerback Kendall Sheffield, has yet to play because of a foot injury. Gage’s concussion ended his day before halftime, and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett hobbled off late in the game with an ailing hip. Oh, and let’s not forget kicker Younghoe Koo. He apparently strained his leg during warmups, couldn’t handle kickoff duties and wound up missing a field goal and an extra point. The Falcons may have to bring in another kicker this week to prepare for the possibility that Koo can’t go against the Packers.
22-28 — The Falcons’ record since Week 3 of the 2017 season, which doesn’t bode well for Quinn’s long-term employment.
The Falcons travel to Lambeau Field to meet Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers (3-0) on Monday night — hardly the sort of environment that’s conducive to turning around a dismal season. It’s hard to see Blank letting things drag on much longer with Quinn if Atlanta drops to 0-4 for the first time since 1999.
The ever-optimistic Quinn sees it a different way.
“We know our best football is out in front of us,” he said. “There’s no better place to show it than a Monday night in Green Bay.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963. His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.