ATLANTA (AP) — Coach Dan Quinn isn’t dwelling on how desperate the Atlanta Falcons are to avoid a 6-10 record.
It might not sound like much of an accomplishment after winning an NFC title and advancing to the second round of the playoffs in the last two seasons, but Quinn said the Falcons still have goals to attain.
After watching his team beat Carolina and Arizona in consecutive weeks, Quinn is proud that the defense created seven takeaways and the offense piled up 64 points. He said the wins were a result of players not quitting on each other during a five-game losing streak that ruined their wild-card chances.
“It’s been a difficult time, man,” Quinn said in a conference call with reporters Monday. “No question about it in terms of not taking our opportunities when they were there, but to see the fight and resolve, that means a lot. I know we’ll fight our ass off again this week.”
The Falcons will return to practice Wednesday to prepare for the season finale at Tampa Bay. It’s their third straight game against a non-playoff opponent, but Quinn isn’t concerned so much about the matchup. His focus is on details like turnover margin, pass rush and establishing and stopping the run.
The defense has been energized with the return of middle linebacker Deion Jones, who has 27 solo tackles, one forced fumble, three pass breakups and an interception he ran back for a long touchdown since coming back four games ago from a foot injury.
Jones has what Quinn calls the “intent and speed” to make everyone around him better.
“Over that time, our turnover attempt has been better as well,” Quinn said. “I think we had a couple against Baltimore. We didn’t recover them. We had a couple of opportunities at Green Bay. We didn’t catch ’em.
“In these last two games, we had more chances and we had more production. I keep track every game of how many shots on the ball we’ve had, and for the last four games those shots have gone up each game. That’s a good sign that we’re tracking in the right direction.”
Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has three sacks, five quarterback hits and a forced fumble since Jones’ return. Nickel cornerback Brian Poole has one sack, two interceptions, two pass breakups and two fumble recoveries just in the last two weeks.
Offensively, despite stars like Matt Ryan, the 2016 NFL MVP, and six-time Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones, the Falcons have been a disaster running the ball. But after entering the Arizona game last in the NFL in rushing, they have racked up 409 yards averaged 8.5 yards per carry in two straight games.
Tevin Coleman, the team’s leading rusher since former Pro Bowl back Devonta Freeman was lost to season-ending injuries, is questionable this week because of sore groin. Quinn believes he will be able to play, but the Falcons will lean on Brian Hill regardless. Hill finished with 115 yards on eight carries at Carolina, getting the chance to play when third-stringer Ito Smith was lost for the season to an injury after the Arizona game.
It’s another example Quinn cites of the next man stepping up when a teammate goes down. The Falcons never recovered after losing starting guards Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco and starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, but the good news is that offensive linemen Ty Sambrailo and Zane Beadles and defensive backs Damontae Kazee and Isaiah Oliver carved out important roles.
“What I’ve told all of them is that this will serve a higher purpose in the end,” Quinn said. “Through the years I’ve seen when that’s not the case, and it’s tough to get it back, but this team fights. We’ve never backed off the culture in the locker room they’ve created.
“I’m sure in the next year so I’ll reflect back on some of these moments and the lessons learned and the leaders that were developed.”