Quinn’s decision might’ve been right but everything else was wrong

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn made a crucial fourth-and-1 decision that backfired Sunday but there were other reasons the Falcons lost the game. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn made a crucial fourth-and-1 decision that backfired Sunday but there were other reasons the Falcons lost the game. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Ensuring nobody will declare, “I’m certain the Falcons will make the playoffs,” for at least several weeks and possibly the remainder of the season, the team that keeps Atlanta sports fans on the edge of their seats — or a cliff — did it again Sunday. They led 27-10 but lost 33-30 in overtime to the San Diego Chargers, a team they were expected to beat.

For my column on the game, click here. 

Most of the conversation early this week will focus on coach Dan Quinn’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Falcons’ 45 in overtime. That’s understandable. I’m just not so sure it was the wrong decision.

Running back Devonta Freeman was tackled by Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman for a two-yard loss on a slow-developing running play. That effectively was the game, because San Diego took over at the Falcons’ 43, drove with way too much ease to the 24 and kicked a 42-yard field goal to win the game.

Quinn’s decision could be debated either way. If he decides to punt from near midfield, there’s a chance the Falcons can pin San Diego deep in its own territory. But the Chargers had been driving the ball on the Falcons’ defense all game, totaling 426 yards in offense (348 passing). So why give the opponent with momentum that chance? Going for it represents a significant risk but a team should be able to gain a yard and Quinn has vowed to be an aggressive coach.

Quinn said after the game that the Falcon defense’s faltering performance “was not a factor” in his decision. Rather, it was about what he wants the “team’s mindset” to be.

OK, but the play call was not great. It seemed more logical if the Falcons called a running play with Freeman straight up the gut behind a lead blocker. Or even have Ryan fake a handoff and then roll out, where he can either run it himself or complete a quick toss to Julio Jones.

But the biggest issue wasn’t the fourth down, it was everything that led up to it. A home team with a 27-10 lead over an underdog opponent should be able to slam the door on a win. Or as the Falcons like to say: finish.

Here are three things that lost the game for the Falcons before the fourth-down play:

  1. DEFENSE: San Diego quarterback Phillip Rivers torched the Falcons with passes underneath the coverage for most of the game. That included three third-down completions on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive. The Chargers converted five of seven third downs in the fourth quarter, as well as a fourth-and-2. It was a bad day for a young defensive unit that had started to make progress and made some big plays Sunday, including forcing two turnovers that led to 10 points and sacked Rivers four times. But they got beat on too many passes.
  2. RYAN’S INTERCEPTION: Even with San Diego’s comeback, the Falcons led 30-27 and had a chance to expand their lead and potentially put this game away with less than four minutes remaining. But on first down from the 50, Ryan tried to force a pass to Julio Jones at the Chargers’ 35. Jones was double-covered and Perryman picked off Ryan’s underthrow. If the Falcons can come away with just field goal on that possession, it forces San Diego to try to score a touchdown on its next possession. Ryan: “Their linebacker peeled off the inside rout and went outside, and I saw it too late. That’s something I’ve got to be better at. I think I could probably let that ball go a little bit earlier with a little better anticipation. If not, then check the ball down.” Actually, probably just check down or throw it away.
  3. PENALTIES: The Falcons had nine penalties for 70 yards (the Chargers: only three for 14). Preceding Ryan’s interception, the Falcons had consecutive false start penalties after having a first down at the San Diego 40. They had four false starts in the game. At home. That’s inexcusable. So was the third-quarter play on punt coverage by Therezie Robenson to plow into Chargers returner Dexter McCluster before McCluster had a chance to catch the ball. The resulting penalty meant San Diego could start its possession at the 31 instead of the 17, and it drove to a field goal on that drive, narrowing the score to 27-20.

All of the aforementioned came before Quinn’s fourth-down decision. That’s why the Falcons are 4-3.

Subscribe to the new, “We Never Played The Game” podcast with Jeff Schultz and WSB’s Zach Klein. All episodes can be downloaded and heard on iTunes or here via WSBRadio.com. New episodes every Monday and Thursday.

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17 comments
DarlaLewis
DarlaLewis

I don't care about the fourth and one call by Dan Quinn, or the interception by Matt Ryan, I blame that an offensive line that broke his rythmn with those stupid penalties. Also people on that backend were out of position and gave up explosive plays. If they win the Packers game this story will go away fast and in a hurry.

Falcons2013
Falcons2013

Jeff, you hit it pretty well in the head. Falcons hadn't been able to stop the underneath passes all day. Not wrong to go for it. Game was lost for a variety of reasons, one of the most glaring being not one but two consecutive offsides on what was developin as a game clinching drive. That is pure lack of discipline and is unforgivable at home. One last thing I keep hearing is beating up on the fan base for not getting in seats earlier. The ability to move traffic is abysmal and the security is grossly inefficient. There seems to be an ability to get people in thru turnstiles and into seats in other NFL stadiums not to mention the college stadiums. I have been to both this year and they move much better. Mr. Blank should try and drive downtown and stand in line to get into the stadium. He would be shocked at his experience. At a time he is trying to sell PSLs he will need to confront that the home experience has improved and the games are becoming not worth the hassle of attending live. I say this as a 26 season ticket holder.

ForeverDawg
ForeverDawg

For 50 years this team, no matter the season, no matter the record, has been stuffed on 3rd & 1 and 4th & 1, often on back-to-back downs a la Sunday. That makes it kind of hard to win a Super Bowl, eh?

Kennyd_va
Kennyd_va

We have to stop Blaming our OC.... Fans jumped on the bandwagon when the offense was clicking.  My Falcons fans, this is Matt Ryan's 9th season and he should be or within the winning class with the Brees, Brady's and Rodgers.  Matt could have easily audible on the 3rd and 1 ...and 4th and 1. Let's stop blaming the OC, when Matt Ryan should be avoiding  making mistakes.

Kennyd_va
Kennyd_va

Jeff Schultz .. You got it right this time. The Falcons had this game won.  On  4th and  with 8 in the box, who run the ball....  Some viewers see play action to Julio open at the sticks and I agree.  Matt Ryan need to get better at audible . Deion Jones took a Rivers pick inside the 10 and only a field goal. Another red-zone issue.  Rivers shredded our defense with check down passes.  You have to Blame the Offense and Defense.. Fans talk about Kyle's play calling ...No it's not Kyle's play calling....Blame Matt Ryan for not knowing how to managing the game and clock and fail to read the  defense. I'm still and always will be a Die Hard Atlanta falcons Fan

SaulK
SaulK

with the terrible division the falcons are in they will make the playoffs somehow---hopefully they can upset some team in the first round.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Lots of contributing factors, but the late game approach to pass defense kept them on the field and wore them out. This is NOT a "smash-mouth" will-imposing offense, it's a pass-first finesse offense. Fourth-and-one you need to run a play with options, or punt.

Jacket Detective
Jacket Detective

When will Quinn improve the defense?

So far, he looks like just the typical dumb Falcons head coach we always hire.

DarlaLewis
DarlaLewis

@Home Team Critic They got guys on the team Like Jackson and Brooks Reed that when their contracts expire they won't be renewed. Rookies should be much better next year. You can't take a bad defense and make it good overnight.

ctfalconsfan
ctfalconsfan

Where to start:

1) Quinn isn't being honest if he says the decision to go for it had nothing to do with the defense. Our defense was being shreaded throughout the 2nd half. If our defense had been playing lights out we certainly would have punted.

2) Ryan's interception was both the OC's fault as well as Ryan's. I understand and agree we can't run the ball 3x and punt trying to kill the clock but there's no reason Ryan needs to be in a 7 step drop back and trying to force a long throw. Instead roll Ryan out where he can a) look for Julio or Sanu b) throw underneath to TE/RB c) tuck and run it d) throw it away. Ball security is more important than the clock in that situation.

3) 3rd and 4th and 1 yard. No reason to hurry the 3rd down qb sneak just a waste of down. I agree we needed to go for it but a) where was the hard count b) best FB in the NFL sitting on bench on both 3rd and 4th downs. Quinn made an agressive call to go for it for Shannahan's terrible formation and play call doomed us. ( One of the OL should have thought this play wasn't going to work and just jump offside forcing us to punt.) 

DarlaLewis
DarlaLewis

@ctfalconsfan Sometimes they  simply go to Julio to much, especially when they have success throughout the game, Matthews didn't make the block and they got stop for a two yard loss. It's hard to get to the next level without a fairly good defense, but I think everybody knew the defense was a work in progress.

falconfever
falconfever

They could not go left all day and then they try that. as Schultz said they had been succesful up the middle or  play action.  Stupid call

pilam76
pilam76

 The call to go for it was idiotic and stupid just as the play call itself! No lead blocker??? Even if you only punt the ball 40 yards, SD get the ball on the 17!!! Make them drive the field! DO NOT GIVE THEM THE BALL AT THE 45 MEANING THEY ONLY NEED 5-10 YARDS TO BE IN FG RANGE!!! Just idiotic!

aznole
aznole

Right on Jeff. I am still trying to comprehend how a home team could have so many false start penalties. Why was the 4 th down run attempt slow developing? Rivers threw underneath with ease all day. What a total meltdown in multiple phases.

Eric_C
Eric_C

According to a popular sports network, going for it on 4th and 1 was about a 50-50 proposition for winning.  But here's the thing, SD only had 13 points in the 2nd half, and most of that was late against the prevent...should we just assume SD was going to torch the defense?


I like to look at the risk/reward...make the 4th and 1 and you likely have the ball near mid field with no guarantee to score, and if you kick a FG eventually, SD can still tie or win it.  Fail though, and well, what we saw is going to happen about 90% of the time.


On the flip side, punt and pin them deep, likely inside the 20, get the crowd into it, and potentially get a three and out with a short field to work with.  I understand that is not the ideal situation, but it sure beats turning the ball over at your own 45 yd line. 


Everyone says it was just a yard, but heck, look at what happened on 3rd and 1 just the play before, and SD had been blowing up the short run plays frequently throughout the game.  Any significant possibility of losing the ball in your own territory was just too dangerous given the sudden death prospect. 


The bottom line is that this was not an aggressive move on the Falcons part, but it was a desperate move, and it didn't need to be.  Hopefully this will not derail the season like the bad call at SF did last season.

traderjoe9
traderjoe9

This was only the 2nd Falcon's game I've seen this season & I only tuned in when the score was 30-27, Falcons leading. Sadly, despite the great wins the Falcons have had between the Tampa game and today, this looked like the Falcons I saw last year and during the Tampa game. Ryan's interception was inexplicable. He wasn't under pressure and it was just a bad throw at a critical juncture. But the running play on 4th down was harder to understand. The Falcons are not a power team. They don't have the line nor the running back. The formation basically gave the play away. The Falcons are more of a finesse team and the odds of success would appear to have been higher had they spread the offense which would have spread the defense. To me this seems rather obvious. The OC has to take this one. Effort was good but they lost and that is the most telling aspect of the play I saw. Maybe if I don't watch them for a few more weeks they will find a way to win again.