Just one game? Well, sure. The Atlanta Falcons’ home opener Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles is “just one game.” One-sixteenth of a grinding NFL schedule.
It’s not a stretch to say, though, that this one game is the most critical regular season game of Dan Quinn’s tenure as head coach. Since beating the Los Angeles Rams in the 2017 playoffs, the Falcons have gone 7-11. That stretch began with a loss at Philadelphia in the second round. It included an uninspiring and frustrating 7-9 finish last year — which began, by the way, with another loss at Philly.
The most recent loss came last Sunday in the season opener against Minnesota.
The Atlanta Braves entered Saturday’s game against the Washington Nationals with a magic number of six. That is, any combination of Braves wins and Nationals losses totalling six would clinch the National League East for Atlanta.
The Falcons enter Sunday’s game against the Eagles with a magic number of two. That is, any combination of Falcons losses and Braves’ division championships would eliminate this Falcons team from local sports relevancy.
Home openers are supposed to be met with hopeful anticipation. Even rebuilding teams want to see a measure of improvement. But the Falcons surrendered that hopeful anticipation last week with that dreadful 28-12 loss to the Vikings. Losing to a good team — a potential Super Bowl team — on the road is no disgrace.
But it’s how the Falcons lost that left hopes deflated. They trailed 14-0 after having run only six offensive plays. They were down 21-0 in the second quarter.
Two Matt Ryan interceptions, one lost fumble, one punt blocked. And, of course, one Minnesota drive kept alive by a third down penalty.
And just like that — whether it’s fair or not to hold a franchise’s half century of mostly inglorious history against this team —those who have borne witness to such ineptness with the regularity of Andy Griffith reruns collectively sighed …
“Same ol’ Falcons.”
Quinn and upper management spent the offseason taking a fresh look at everything. They fired all three coordinators — offensive, defensive and special teams. They invested money and draft picks in retooling the offensive line. They plugged holes where they could on defense and otherwise relied on getting injured players back.
The only variable that hasn’t changed is the head coach. The Super Bowl appearance of three years ago, along with team owner Arthur Blank’s reluctance to fire coaches, bought Quinn more time. A loss to the Eagles could snowball quickly. It’s hard to imagine that Blank would tolerate another losing season.
A win today against the Eagles would go a long way toward restoring hope for this season and this regime. That’s especially true if the New Orleans Saints lose to the Los Angeles Rams.
They’d both be 1-1 with road games the following week — the Falcons at the Colts, the Saints at the Seahawks.
The day after that Minneapolis Meltdown, Quinn said he was “more p--- off than I’ve been in a long time.” After time to move forward mentally, Quinn was more hopeful and upbeat.
“There’s a lot that happens the first few weeks,” Quinn said. “You’re starting to work through some things for sure so you’re hoping that you’re building and getting better. You’re getting stronger and you’re improving as you’re going. The best teams I’ve been a part of have improved a lot during the year from where they started to where they finished.”
Improvement must start against the Eagles.