A thing we might do after watching the Rams stumble in Sean McVay’s playoff debut on Saturday night: Dismiss the 31-year-old head coach’s offense as gimmicky; say he benefited from a down year in a division ransacked by injuries; suggest that because he was only able to rent a car legally five years ago that he has something to learn about the big time.
McVay deserves every NFL Coach of the Year vote he gets this season for pulling a lost franchise out of the woods and delivering the league a gust of schematic fresh air it hasn’t seen since Bruce Arians signed on to coach the Cardinals in 2013. Jared Goff is now a premiere NFL quarterback. Todd Gurley is an MVP candidate. Sammy Watkins is, at times, Sammy Watkins again. It was a good year.
Another thing we might do: Talk about the Falcons like we have all year—like a collection of valuable parts good enough on its own to sleepwalk back into the playoffs.
The only problem? Dan Quinn deserves every Coach of the Year vote he gets too. And he’s not going to get nearly enough of them.
Throughout the night Saturday, the Falcons tackled like a world-class rugby team. Defensive backs were jumping routes quick enough to not only break up passes (six in total), but emphatically swat them to the ground. Gurley caught just four balls for 10 yards after a season where he averaged more than that per grab. This can all be traced back to the defensive minded head coach who, we conveniently forget, had an inconceivable weight on his shoulders to start the season.
Back in March and April, Quinn had the look of a delusional investor still happily holding on to all his J.C. Penney stock. He went on television shows hocking the team’s dime store Pete Carroll motivational philosophy after the most embarrassing collapse in Super Bowl history. He talked about how he watched the game. He said he embraced the suck.
All a neutral observer could think at the time was: There’s no way in hell the Falcons are coming back from this. Bless this poor man’s soul.
Fast forward to Jan. 6, a night where the No. 6-seed Falcons upset the 5.5-point favorite Rams on the road. To get there, they finished the regular season 10–6 and managed to reach the playoffs despite a massive turnaround in the NFC South—both the Panthers and Saints debuted new offenses and rookie running backs, riding their own renaissance seasons into the tournament.
On the way to this moment, Atlanta endured a three-game losing streak (two of the losses were to inferior Bills and Dolphins teams). They slumped offensively, but didn’t panic and remove their controversial replacement choice for Super Bowl offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Steve Sarkisian. All of these were hurdles for Quinn.
After the game, star linebacker Deion Jones was asked how they managed to pummel the Rams, holding a team with Gurley in its arsenal to just 22 minutes of possession and 13 points. He mentioned the word “buy in,” which is an athlete platitude we’d prefer get fired into space. But what if he’s right?
We can roll our eyes at Quinn’s approach to rectifying the worst moment of his professional life, only if we realize that it paid off. After having his pride surgically removed on national television by the Patriots, he’s working his way back for another chance.