Quinn makes a rookie mistake

Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn stands on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Dan Quinn made a mistake. Maybe it was a rookie mistake — this was Quinn’s ninth game as an NFL head coach — but it was a mistake all the same. Let’s be clear about that.

Let’s also be clear about this: I understand why he made it. Don’t agree, but I understand.

Get the picture: Falcons trailing by four points, fourth-and-goal at the San Francisco 1, three minutes remaining, two timeouts remaining. Quinn chose to kick the field goal that brought his team closer but still left it behind with 2:56 to play. He relied on his defense to make a stop, which it didn’t. The 49ers made two first downs — one on a third-down scramble, the other on two running plays — and that was that.

Quinn is a defensive coach by trade. He trusted his defense. It failed him. But the greater error was in misreading the situation. Had the Falcons gone for the touchdown and missed, the Niners would have had to try to grind out two first downs starting at their 1-yard line. That’s rather different from taking the ball at the 20 on a touchback after a kickoff following a field goal that still left them ahead.

Having yielded points but not the go-ahead points, San Fran had every reason to be relieved. Had it stopped the Falcons on fourth-and-goal from the 1, it would have been excited for 30 seconds, whereupon reality would have descended: “Hey, we’re still on our 1 and we’re still using a bumped-up backup quarterback. This ain’t over.”

Sometimes coaches err by not taking a field goal that brings them within a field goal of taking the lead. (As we know, NFL games are forever coming down to field goals after a breathless final drive.) Had the Falcons faced fourth-and-12 at the 30 with the same amount of time remaining, kicking would have been in order. A failed fourth down from there leaves the opponent in decent field position, not with its feet in its end zone.

I’m sure Quinn was thinking: “We take the points; we use our timeouts; we use the two-minute warning and we get the ball back with plenty of time to kick another field goal.” But I say again: The difference between an opponent having the ball at its 1 with a four-point lead and at its 20 with a one-point lead is immense.

We stipulate that not every fourth-down gamble works, and here we consult the master of the failed fourth down, the now-jobless Mike Smith. On Nov. 11, 2012, Smith faced close to the same choice: The 8-0 Falcons trailed New Orleans by four points and had fourth-and-goal at the 2 with 1:46 left and two timeouts remaining. Matt Ryan threw towards Roddy White. Jabari Greer broke up the pass.

Even so, the Falcons got the ball back. The Saints of Brees and Graham and Colston tried three rushes and punted from their 4. (Smith called both his timeouts.) The Falcons took possession at their 31 — a Lawrence Sidbury holding penalty on the punt cost them 10 yards — with 41 seconds left. They couldn’t manage a first down and were unbeaten no longer.

Infamous for his late-game mismanagement, Smitty played that one correctly. He gave his offense two chances — granted, the second was a tough chance made tougher by the penalty — inside the final two minutes. Quinn’s choice wound up giving his offense no chance over the final 2:56. He’s a defensive-minded man, but he doesn’t have Seattle’s defense. (At least not yet.)

That said: If you’re trailing a lousy Niners team with three minutes left on any field anywhere, you deserve what you get. The Falcons were lucky to beat the Redskins in overtime to get to 5-0 and the Titans by a field goal to become 6-1 They haven’t played well in five weeks. They have a week off to recalibrate. They need it.

Further reading: Going by the 4th Down Calculator at Brian Burke’s excellent site Advanced Football Analytics — thanks to Rodger Sherman of SB Nation for pointing this out — making the field goal actually lessened the Falcons’ chances of winning Sunday. Per the Calculator, the Falcons had a 17 percent chance of winning after taking the three points. They’d have had the same 17 percent chance had they missed the field goal. Had they gone for the touchdown and failed, they’d have had a 35 percent chance of winning. Had they scored the touchdown, they’d have had a 78 percent chance of winning.

Quinn, you should know, is big on analytics. He’ll cringe at these.

Reader Comments 0

98 comments
Bug
Bug

best write up I have seen on this fish wrap for 2 years.

ForeverDawg
ForeverDawg

You don't win - anything - much less a championship, if you are Valdosta High, the University of Georgia or even the Atlanta Falcons if you can't run the ball and make it on 4th and 1 with the game on the line. Just sayin'...

TideDawg
TideDawg

oK! Judgement has been passed. Time to quit dwelling on a loss(no matter how stupid it was) and move on to the next game. Rookie coaches make mistakes the same as rookie players. Cut him a little slack unless he makes the same mistake again. There will be others but maybe not fatal.

TreeRollins
TreeRollins

My point - Quinn made TWO huge errors in judgement that cost them the game.

TreeRollins
TreeRollins

He should have gone for the 2 point conversion after the Falcons touchdown got them to 17-12. If convert red it would have been 17-14 and the same field goal we're discussing would have tied the game. The 1point successful PAT bought us nothing!

tneck
tneck

It's easy to make this decision after the fact.  Under the gun is different.  I'm sure he knows he made a mistake and won't do it again.

SaulK
SaulK

to correct all these problems, thomas can trade 5 more draft picks for another wide receiver! julio's getting old!

candlin14
candlin14

I honestly think we are about to hit a real big wall. Our secondary is awful and will remain awful until we can get to the QB. The colts are going to light up the scoreboard and I dont see our offense putting up enough points to keep pace. I think the vikings are going to put it to us as well and we will not come close to a win versus Carolina. 


I was skeptical at the beginning of the year and I turned optimistic following our 5-0 start but this team looks absolutely awful the past 4 weeks. 


I am starting to hate Shanahan, and Ryan is just not getting the job done right now. I am not going to throw all the blame on Ryan but this play calling is borderline awful the past four weeks. We have not moved Ryan out of the pocket, we have not thrown any screens, and we have not fixed our god awful center situation. We rolled another shotgun snap this week but luckily Ryan picked it up and threw it for a first. 


I dont see to much to be happy about right now. You 100% go for the TD on the road.

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

If I told you our D was going to only give up an average of 20 points a game for a 5 game stretch before the year started I am sure you would have:

1. Called me a clown!

2. Told me to put it down and put it out.

3. Ask me did you just see me go in the dispensary!

4. Said if that happen we would win 4 of 5 of those games.

candlin14
candlin14

@AnsweredTHIS


We put the game in our defense hands on Sunday and we let Gabbert scramble for the first. 


Mark my words Answered This, we will give up 30+ to the Colts after the bye week. 

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

Why are we making so much out of this! You Ryan apologist won't say it but I will!

He did not go for it because he does not believe in his starting QB nor does he believe in his OC!

Those are the simple facts folks!

candlin14
candlin14

@AnsweredTHIS


Cmon now, he didnt go for it because he is a defensive minded coach and truly believes this team has a good defense. Unfortunately they do not

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

@Candlin

BS!

Over the last 5 games offenses have averaged 20 points total against this defense you bash! Even you say if we only give up 20 points a game we should win! Right? They gave up 17 yesterday!!!! Go check the scores! Not for the NO game it would be less! And because of the turnovers for the last three weeks it would be less.

If you have a $100 million dollar investment dont you think it should pay dividends? Stop it candlin! You too knowledgeable about football to keep sticking up for Ryan!

If You dont use your investment it can never bring returns! That was the most perfect time yo use it yesterday! Tell me that Green Bay, New Orleans, New England, San Diego, Carolina, and a host of other teams would have punted the ball! No, they would have put the ball in their leaders hand and said go win the game!!!!

candlin14
candlin14

@AnsweredTHIS


Ryan is not calling the plays nor is he deciding to go for it on 4th. We 100% should have gone for it on 4th, probably one of the dumbest decisions Ive ever seen, not to. But that had nothing to do with Quinn not believing in Ryan. Quinn honestly thought his defense would get a stop. 


In every game you and me disagree about on who is to blame, there are so many factors that play into why we lost. Is Matt Ryan playing lights out, HELL NO, but a combination of turnovers (From Ryan and Others), terrible play calling, terrible officiating (which we do agree on), terrible secondary, terrible O-Line, terrible everything right now. 


I can not agree with you about our defense. We have held back up QBs to low points, yes we should win those games, but turn overs have killed us. We had a chance to get the ball back but our defense failed. Should they have been put in that position, probably not, but even if we didnt score on 4th down, they still would have had to make a stop, and I don't see them doing it in that scenario either. 

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

@candlin

So you telling me out of those teams I mentioned above (plus any other team, SF did it with a guy who has not played in a year and he won the game on a naked bootleg) do you believe their Head Coach would not have put the ball in their hands in the same situation and said go win the game?

Please tell me you dont believe that?

$100 milli he deserves the right to change ANY PLAY, ANY TIME!

Gman84
Gman84

@AnsweredTHIS If your assertions are true that he is too ashamed of his QB and OC to try to gain 1 yard to win the game, then they should seriously consider disbanding the franchise. Maybe, maybe, just maybe it's because this defensive minded coach is as inept as the last defensive minded coach. And BTW, the defenses for both defensive minded coaches just suck. 

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

@Gman

If I gave you 10K on the 3 yard line and told you to score, I put my money on you that you would accomplish that. Now lets talk $100 mill!

Go look at our defense stats, they stink with sacks and in the passing game...yet teams are averaging 20 points a game over the last 5 games. And they cant run the ball against us!

The QB stinks... And so does the OC.

TideDawg
TideDawg

@candlin14 @AnsweredTHIS  That about hits the nail on the head. Evidently Quinn didn't realize that if SF made a first down it was over. They did! The Falcons defense is not that bad. If there had been more time on the clock they would have stopped SF before they could get in scoring position. Another mistake I think they made was setting the defense to cover a long pass and not covering the 3 yarder that they needed. SF was not going to risk throwing the ball downfield in that position. Quinn has an OC so why not ask him what he would do on that short yardage  play if he was the SF OC.

candlin14
candlin14

@AnsweredTHIS


I agree that Ryan is struggling and Shannahan is terrible. What I am trying to get through here is the fact that Ryan wouldn't be struggling near as much as we think he is, if for example, Roddy Brings down the 3rd down catch on Sunday top move the chains. If Matt Bryant makes his Field Goals. If the center could actually snap the football, If Coleman doesn't fumble in New Orleans, If Julio Doesnt get stripped against Tampa Bay. 


Ryan is not playing good football right now, but he is playing well enough to keep us in games and give us a chance of winning. All of the other factors mentioned have contributed to the losses, not just Ryans mistakes.


Youre still my boy Answered This, but lets face it. We don't have that good of a football team. We will get man handled by Carolina in week 14 and most likely the Colts in two weeks followed by the Vikings.  

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

@candlin

For some reason, I think we get stronger at the end of the yeat and play lights out. I know it sounds crazy but this team has notnplayed anywhere capable to how it can play....wait against Houston they did.

tyger
tyger

In my best Herm Edwards voice....


"YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!"

MarkAnderson
MarkAnderson

Just imagine what the 49ers might have done if they wouldn't have dropped so many passes. The Falcons didn't capitalize on these breaks. They let the 49ers' D dictate their offensive plays. 


Good things happen when Ryan is more mobile and he delivers his passes quicker since his O-line is not top notch. I think their opponents have seen enough film this season to mount a good game plan on them. That is why they seem to be struggling at mid-season. 

Bruce
Bruce

It seems like if Ryan threw long (more than 5 yards) occasionally, it would open up for the run and shorter passes.

popgun
popgun

Amen, Mark. I was screaming the same thing at my TV set. The Falcons aren't Super Bowl ready, but this was a loss they didn't deserve. It's on Coach.

50Concept
50Concept

Atl only has 2 good teams left on their schedule: panthers and vikings. The rest of the teams aren't any good and ATL should win those games and get a wildcard slot. Hopefully they can upset somebody in the playoffs.

candlin14
candlin14

@50Concept


Did you see the Colts play yesterday. They are coming off a bye as well. They will throw all over this defense

jebjr325
jebjr325

When are the Falcons gonna get a pass rush???  On the other hand, Ryan has defenders

in his face all the time!  Not gonna win a championship w/o a pass rush.

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

He has defenders in his face "all the time" because he birddogs one receiver and holds the ball for 4 seconds! When that receiver is not open he tries to force a throw and we all know how that has been working out! Can you say INT!?

TOJacket
TOJacket

That's his mulligan for the season.

TOJacket
TOJacket

Headline should read...........Quinn sheet in his pants.

Bruce
Bruce

Why did Quinn challenge the call on S.F. 4th down play when it was quite obvious that they had made a 1st down? The Falcon's could have used that lost time-out.

candlin14
candlin14

@Bruce


Absolutely right... Another horrible decision that cost us much needed time. How on earth do we let Gabbert run like Vick all over us especially on the 3rd and 5 at the end of the game. That 3rd down play was the game and we could have used a timeout to get us in the right scheme.

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

@candlin

Over the last 5 games offenses have averaged 20 points a game against the Falcons. Not for the turnovers in the NO game, and all of the other turnovers by our QB and offense it would be more around 18 points a game or less! ANY coach worth their weight says if my defense only gives up 20 points a game ( count the turnovers added in the last five games) we should win.

Now tell me what has the offense averaged over the last 5 games? Who leads the offense? Please candlin, you are too knowledgeable about blaming this defense man! Go read the article about Roddy on the other blog. You hear the critics and the fans and the announcers all saying the same thing! Roddy has plenty left and he is open consistently! Why cant they get him the ball? Ryan is regressing and looks horrible, what has happened?!

Stop taking up for Ryan man. If you do you are going to sink in the ship with him! This is not the defense fault, nor Roddys, or ANYONE else. The blame starts with Shannahan and ends with Ryan...period!

Okeetee
Okeetee

As has been pointed out with stats to back it up, the decision to kick the field goal rather than go for the touchdown was a bad one!  I'm just hoping that Quinn didn't pick up some of the "dead brain cells" his buddy back in Seattle had!  Everybody in town knew that giving the ball to Lynch on 2nd down even behind an offensive line made up of Sea Hawk cheerleaders was the best call to make and would have gained 1 yard and won a Super Bowl!  

sacks
sacks

Atlanta Falcons have Sucked for 50 years in this fair city..I look in my crystal ball and see them Sucking for the next 50 years..Hopefully in someone else's fair city!!


I mean when you stink up the joint from top to bottom, who do you blame?  Mother nature..perhaps??

midwaycva41
midwaycva41

Mike Smith "jobless"?  I thought Mike Smith got a job as an assistant coach with the Oakland Raiders (who are apparently on the way up at this point in the season). 

maxman2660
maxman2660

quinn just don't seem to be the sharpest tool in the shed,just got outcoached by jim tomasulo and lovie smith don't get much worse

Intruder
Intruder

Every coach should have one of those 4th down calculators. Then they could second guess the calculator because it certainly would not be right every time.

GwinnettFred
GwinnettFred

@Intruder Word has it Quinn had Bryant on his Fan Duel team and needed the 3 points.

patriotdog
patriotdog

The Birds are using a patchwork O line that was cobbled together from the waiver wire a week before opening day. The linebackers and D line depend on waiver wire guys, as well. That the team is 6-3 is amazing, but as water finds its level, so has this team. I've been a Falcons fan since the day Ivan Allen announced Atl was getting a franchise and an insurance guy named Rankin Smith named Norbert Hecker as his first coach.

The team will be one with which to be reckoned, but not this year. Too many big holes on both lines and not enough belief by Ryan (or Shanahan) in anyone other than Julio., nothing another draft/free agency/trade season won't fix.....assuming Q remains in charge of personnel.

Aikendawg
Aikendawg

Come on now. Rookies are about 23 or 24 years old. This is the NFL. Fourteen year old high school players were left wondering why he didn't go for two when the Falcons were down one. Being down 5 is the same as down 4. If you're going to jump down Mark Richt's throat and not Dan Quinn's it looks like some kind of favoritism. Demand the best at all levels of professional coaching or demand nothing at all.

TheMatr1x
TheMatr1x

Soliai is the best run stuffer for the Falcons. He is injured and the Falcons have to stop the run to get the ball back... come on Quinn, you go for the touchdown there and not rely on a defense without your best run stuffer!

Gmoney1971
Gmoney1971

Ryan is not the problem. We all are the problem from the fans on up. Who gave us a chance to be 6-3. We cry and complain because we pay our $$$s and we want bragging right. We hunger for a title. Coaches need to coach, players need to play and fans need to support.

I can sit here and pick the coaches and players apart, but the bottom line they are our team and at this time they have a winning record. In the 22 years I served in the military, mistakes were made but over them years you learn to train and be battle focused. All teams go through ups and downs but the key is having resilience, fan and team support. Support our Falcons as you would your kids, spouse, friend, or family member that goes through tough times. I am a season ticket holder that live in Louisville. I want a Championship just as much as anyone else, but to be successful. .we all must rehuddle and bounce back as ONE Falcons Family! Rise Up!

Jack Flannery
Jack Flannery

@Gmoney1971 Ryan is the problem, in that, he is the highest paid player, appears to be regressing rapidly, has always had turnover issues with fumbling, and now doesn't seem to realize Roddy White is on the field. Ryan has always had poor field vision(Gonzales open in the flat anyone?) but in this offense it is even worse. He is good and has done some great things for us, but it seems like he has peaked. He is a gamer and will lead more comebacks but he's not going to make a back of the end zone type of play like a Roethlisberger has made to win a Super Bowl. He is just not that talented.  

slydawg
slydawg

My 20 years in the military taught me about sober honesty, accountability, and taking criticism in stride. No one can hurt you if you didn't care for them in the first place. Complaints are from fans who actually care. Sometimes it's okay if you.only see trees and not the whole forest.

candlin14
candlin14

@Jack Flannery @Gmoney1971


Completely disagree with you Jack. Roddy sure did come through for us on the 3rd down drop. Perfectly placed passed that he dropped. White is NOT that good man. Watch him run his routes. He is slow! WE would be better off with Williams, Hardy and Jones as our 3 wide outs. 


Our offensive play calling is borderline awful. Very generic, no mis direction, zero risk taking, zero screens, no bootlegs like we were doing earlier in the year. 


I just dont understand who you Ryan Haters want to go and get??? Please give me a solution besides saying GET RID OF RYAN