Surely it had something to do with the charged setting — his new team had come within a Richard Sherman armlock of toppling his old team in the fortress where that old team has gone 34-5 since 2011 — but one Dan Quinn response Sunday was unlike every postgame DQ response as the Atlanta Falcons’ coach. This one sounded unscripted. This one sounded, dare we say, genuine.
On Sunday in Seattle, someone (blush) asked Quinn if he felt better about these Falcons, who are 4-2, after six games than he did last year’s Falcons, who were 5-1. His unedited answer:
“I like what our team identity is becoming. So badly did I want the identity to happen right away. It’s growing stronger, that toughness that resolve to where we can attack in all three phases. That identity is one that I’m pleased that were starting to become, we way we want to finish, the different people that get involved. We have had some games where different groups came through. Two weeks ago certainly the defensive line had a big day. Two weeks before that the quarterback and receivers had one. We have had games where the special teams have been involved.
“Having that team identity knowing that all phases are going to attack, I feel it’s coming together. We so desperately wanted that to happen last year, I believe that’s where we were going with some of this but it didn’t in terms of all the way. I wanted that to happen overnight but it didn’t. But I feel like this group is growing, quite a bit different from last year’s group. We will be ready to get back rockin’ here in a few days.”
The two things I liked about that were the absence of “resolve” and “resiliency,” two DQ buzzwords invoked so often as to have shed all buzz, but mostly the part where Quinn, who tries hard to say nothing, said something. Three times he mentioned how “badly” and “desperately” he wanted this “coming together” to happen last season — and then admitted what we knew from the 8-8 finish after a 5-0 start: It hadn’t.
By conceding what didn’t happen last season, Quinn lent credence to his ultimate assertion — that it’s happening now. Because it is. (Yes, I’m surprised to be typing these words, but these are, to borrow from Paul Simon, the days of miracle and wonder.) A year ago, the Falcons were a team in transition posing as imposing. These Birds aren’t poseurs. These Birds are playoff-caliber. These Birds are good.
Back to Quinn: In that tiny admission — that he wanted something and hadn’t gotten it — he offered a hint as to why these Falcons, like the Seattle defenders before them, play so hard for him. When he speaks from the heart and not a bullet-pointed list of Talking Points, his words have power. I’ve been around him a bit over these past few months, but this was maybe the second time I thought: There’s a real guy in there.
I understand. Every corporate entity wants its spokesperson to hew the corporate line. The Falcons cowed Mike Smith, who needed little coaxing, into seven seasons amiable banalities — it’s always daunting to have the team’s high-profile owner sitting front and center at every postgame briefing, which doesn’t happen many (if any) other places — and Quinn joined the CoachSpeak queue. But that does a disservice to Quinn himself, same as it did with Smith. Sometimes your spokesperson needs to, you know, speak.
Quinn would appear a bright and intriguing guy, but the bromides come so thick and fast that the power of the messenger can be lost in his desire to Stay On Message. After last December’s 38-0 embarrassment in Charlotte, Quinn wobbled and deemed such a showing “totally unacceptable.” When someone (blush again) asked what that meant, he mumbled something about “finishing” — another buzzkill buzzword — and that was the end of that.
The Quinn seen in that one moment in Seattle — seen after a rousing performance that became a bitter loss — was different. He was forthright in a way that Pete Carroll, his old boss, is forthright. I realize that coaches aren’t put on this Earth to entertain us media folks, but the people with press passes aren’t so much a constituency as a conduit to fans and even players. As Dan Quinn grows into this job — and clearly he’s doing that — the hope is that he’ll allow himself to be Dan Quinn. Because he’s worth knowing.
Super fun reading from a wild Western swing: