Dan Quinn reflects on a season defined by loss and where he'll take the Falcons from here
- The head coach who stood helplessly on the sidelines as the Falcons' first Super Bowl victory slipped away is no stranger to loss. In a one-on-one sitdown at the combine, he says he's ready to keep those feelings close by as he tries to keep the Falcons in title contention.
INDIANAPOLIS — Get over it? Never, Dan Quinn says while sitting in a suite high above the field at Lucas Oil Stadium. Roughly a month has passed since the Falcons and their head coach blew a 28–3 lead against the Patriots, losing Super Bowl LI in overtime. That loss marked Quinn’s third appearance and second defeat in the last four Super Bowls.
In a sit-down with SI.com on Wednesday (check back for the full magazine story still to come), Quinn detailed his thoughts on that game, his personal loss before last season and what Atlanta’s postseason run meant to the city.
Greg Bishop: What was it like watching the Super Bowl for the first time? Could you set the scene for me?
Dan Quinn: I was in my office. I was by myself. I shut the door.
GB: Did you crack open a beer?
DQ: [Shakes head no, laughs] I should have had tears in my beer, but I went through all the phases, went through each of them. I haven’t watched it just once. I’ve watched it a number of times. I wanted to say, O.K., what if? You have to go down that road. Could this call have been different? Could you have played this one different? And as the head coach you have to own all of them.
There’s a lot of talk about the end of the game. Could you just run it three times and kick the field goal? At the time, I heard the call going in. I knew what we were trying to do. Throwing a pass to our best player [receiver Julio Jones] from the league MVP [quarterback Matt Ryan]. That usually works out pretty good for us. When we took a sack on that play and then a penalty on the next one, the consequences of those two made a difference.
But honestly, we still had an eight-point lead, and we could have stopped them on defense. They didn’t have to get the two-point conversion. The game was not won or lost on that play. [Pauses] I think that’s important to note.
GB: Was it more of a clinical review of what happened or just slamming your fist over it?
DQ: The first [viewing] was … take it all in, because that’s my first experience with it. And then the second and third and 10th time are clinical reviews of it. The first one was an understanding. I wanted to see moments in the game. As a coach, on the sideline, you don’t see the whole play. That’s what happened there? Man, what a catch by Edelman. Those ones are like, where did that come from?
GB: How many times have you watched it?
DQ: Ten. Probably 10 times.
GB: And it never gets easier?
DQ: If I had questions, I want to see [the answers]. O.K., maybe in the aftermath I say, could you have played more man than zone? So I went back to the second half. We played 30 snaps of man-to-man and 27 snaps of zone. At the end offensively, what could we have done differently? It was more for me to grow and learn, so I could keep it ingrained. I’m that person that needs to write the notes down a couple of times. So sometimes I’ll go though a game a number of times.
GB: Someone close to you told my colleague Ben Baskin that you also had a personal loss last year?
DQ: My dad passed last June. And so yeah, it was different. He’s somebody who’s been to a lot of football with me through the years. I had a picture of him, I put it in my pocket for the NFC Championship Game. Just making sure like he was there in my pocket for the Super Bowl. Just knowing he’s seen a lot of me playing, high school and college, then been to games all over the country, so that was cool to know that he was watching down.
For me he was always somebody that showed up to so many games. He was a businessman, did a lot of traveling around, but come Saturday afternoon or Sundays, he was there. Always.
GB: The same person told us they saw you after the Packers game and you told them you felt like your dad was with you.
DQ: Yeah, and so I put him in my pocket, just to make sure.
It was such a cool game. And those two weeks at the Georgia Dome were the most fun in my two years in Atlanta because of the crowd. Like, they were rocking, man. And that’s what I hoped I’d see—the connection between the city and the team—so to see how hard the players want to play for the fans, and to see how loud the fans could be for the team, that’s exactly what I’d hoped it would be.
GB: I talked to people like Deion Sanders, Rep. John Lewis, Migos, etc., about what the Super Bowl trip meant to the Atlanta area. While you’re in it, how much could you feel things building to that moment?
DQ: It was cool, man. I could feel that. We have these great football fans just based on where we live. Like between Alabama and Florida and Georgia and South Carolina—that’s football, man. So the fact we’re the professional team in that area amongst all this high school football and really important college football, it was so cool to see the city. Like when we left to go from Atlanta to Houston, there must have been 20,000 people lining the streets to see the buses go. Like, that’s it, man. That’s cool as hell.
GB: Have you had any interesting interactions since the loss?
DQ: Just tons of them. It’s the support. Like at the airport or around town. Like, “Hey, man that was the coolest season we’ve had. We’re with you.” I wish I could tell every fan how important that support is to all of us as the coaches and the players. Like, we feel that. And I want them to know, that connection, it can get even stronger.
It’s a fun time to be in Atlanta. Because we feel like team-wise, we’re going to continue to hit our stride and just work like crazy to get better. We are really excited to move into a new stadium, knowing that’s going to be home for a long time. That’s a cool feeling.
GB: Right after it happened, Pete Carroll said that Super Bowl XLIX loss could end up being the best thing that ever happened to Seattle. You were the defensive coordinator on that team. Can you understand now what he meant?
DQ: I do. [Like when] the Seahawks had a close loss to Atlanta in the divisional round in 2013. Big game for [Russell Wilson]. Came storming back and just felt like they ran out of time. But that propelled the team into that off-season to say, We’re going to go for it, man. We’re not backing off. And that doesn’t mean you’re going to win every game, but it does mean your mindset to compete and battle is on point.
GB: And then that team won the Super Bowl the next year. You were the defensive coordinator for that, too.
DQ: [Laughs] It’s knowing that you can. But you can’t just look back and do the what-if game all day. You’ve gotta at one point move past and put your best foot forward and see how good you can get right now.
GB: So you use that loss as fuel?
DQ: Yeah. Not in a way that drags you down. You don’t ever have to get over it, because that can still be the fuel. But how’s my game going to get better? How am I going to work to improve? You can’t live in the past, either.