He has replayed the scenario over and over.
An eight-point lead. First down-and-10. Ball on the opponents’ 22-yard line. Four minutes and 40 seconds left in the Super Bowl.
What do you do?
“You’ve got to do what you think is best at the time,” Falcons coach Quinn said, when asked about the game on Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine.
In hindsight, if the Falcons ran the ball three times and kicked a field goal, they would likely be Super Bowl LI champions.
But that’s not what exactly happened.
“First one, we had a tackle for a loss,” Quinn said. “On the second one, we had a play going to our best player thrown by the league’s (most valuable player.) I was on the headset. So, I own that call, too. If we complete the ball on that one and don’t take a sack, that’s a gutsy call and it would have moved the chains.”
But the ensuing the 12-yard sack left the Falcons at third-and-23 from the 35. Matt Ryan completed a pass to Mohamed Sanu, but left tackle Jake Matthews was called for holding. On third-and-33 from the 45, Ryan misfired on a pass to Taylor Gabriel and the Falcons had to punt. Falcons fan everywhere remember the rest.
“The consequences were real,” Quinn said. “Those are the ‘what-ifs’ that you go through and it’s a long list. If we ran it two more times, was there going to be no more penalties and we are going to gain yards? Yeah, I would have signed up for that.”
Quinn, after a flurry of coaching moves last month, finally had some time to push back from his desk, turn off the film and reflect on his team’s historic collapse. He admits there are some “do-overs” he’d like. He has watched the game “a lot” of times and said it provides a case study in NFL game mismanagement.
“You have to own that,” Quinn said. “The calls, the things you can do differently. That’s not unlike most Sunday nights for me, where I wrestle with all three phases. Could there be something different? As a head coach, those are the moments that I do have to own.”
The Falcons held a 28-3 lead over New England before everything that could go wrong did on Feb. 5. The team collapsed on several fronts, from players not making plays to questionable play-calling to Quinn’s unwillingness to intervene and redirect that play-calling.
Patriots 34, Falcons 28 (OT).
“When they asked me if I watched it, I say ‘yes,’” Quinn said. “I am past it. I am not over it. I don’t think I ever will be and that’s a good thing.”
Quinn is hoping that his young team may also grow from the devastating defeat.
“The analogy that I use for our team is that we are fighters. … we talk about boxing quite a bit,” he said. “We got our asses knocked down on the canvass.”
Quinn reviewed at his defensive-playing in the second half as well.
“Anytime that you play 90 plays, you’re going to get tired,” Quinn said. “There is a byproduct of that — not playing as well on third down.”
He was pleased with the eight tackles for losses, five sacks and the defensive touchdown. But beyond the stats, what the Falcons do next will determine the future of the franchise.
“You get back up and you go fight again,” Quinn said. “That’s kind of what this offseason is about for us.”
Quinn has a path for the 2017 Falcons, but clearly the soul-searching has been deep. He’s replayed all of the scenarios.
“What I can tell you is that being in that experience and battling for it at the highest level, you can’t duplicate that,” Quinn said. “We actually had on-the-job training and there is something that you totally gain from that. We’ll be stronger for it.
“It’s tough and painful to go through when you have a difficult loss. It doesn’t define us. We have got a team that’s totally on the rise. We are going to battle like crazy this offseason to become even better moving forward.”
Is there still a Super Bowl hangover?
“You’ve got to learn to get past it,” Quinn said. “I didn’t say that you have to get over it. You do have to get past it.”