What’s worse than blowing a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl? The Atlanta Falcons provided the answer to a question no one had the heart to ask on Sunday, blowing 26-7 and 39-24 leads to a Dallas Cowboys team that played the first half as if the gang from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia snuck onto the field wearing Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott jerseys (with Frank Reynolds in a Mike McCarthy mask).
The Falcons are now 0-2 after allowing 78 points in their first two games, leaving NFL Recap to wonder if the Dan Quinn era is finally coming to a merciful end.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Dallas Cowboys Recap
The Cowboys didn’t look hungover in the first quarter. They looked like they were just rescued from a laboratory that was using them as human guinea pigs for experimental hallucinogens in the first quarter. Prescott, Elliott, Tony Pollard, and tight end Dalton Schultz all fumbled in the first half (Pollard’s was recovered by the Cowboys, as was a second Elliott fumble).
Meanwhile, punter Chris Jones attempted the first fake-punt pass of his 10-year career and demonstrated why Jason Garrett never tried it before, badly underthrowing his target to give the Falcons great field position. By halftime, the Falcons were cruising with a 29-10 lead on Matt Ryan touchdowns to Calvin Ridley (2) and Hayden Hurst.
However, if you know two things about Falcons football, it’s that a) their defense starts most games looking decent but then switches to the Madden “toddler” setting, and b) their offense never met an opportunity that it could not leave on the table.
Prescott found WRs CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and even Noah Brown over the middle of the field for chunk gains to set up Cowboys touchdowns. Julio Jones dropped a touchdown lob. The Falcons settled for field goals. The Falcons got flagged for having too many men on the field while attempting to go for it on 4th-and-2. The Cowboys cut the Falcons lead to 39-37 with 1:48 to play.
Then came the onside kick, which hypnotized the entire Falcons team the way Kaa hypnotized Mowgli in The Jungle Book. Three Falcons watched the ball spin until C.J. Goodwin pounced upon it. The Falcons defense then obligingly allowed Lamb to scamper 24 yards on a shallow cross so Greg Zuerlein could kick a 46-yarder to break what’s left of Falcons fans’ hearts.
What it means for the Atlanta Falcons
Quinn has proven to be a ninja when it comes to avoiding the hot seat over the last three years. He sacrifices coordinators. He gets a pass from ownership because of injuries. The Falcons go on hot streaks to save his job, like when they went 6-2 down the stretch last year to finish 7-9. Meanwhile, Ryan and the offense keep the Falcons just competitive enough each week to make it look like the team is a few defensive stops and some injury luck away from returning to the Super Bowl.
But over the last two weeks, the Falcons have looked flat-out unprepared on defense and special teams. That’s inexcusable for a defensive coach and a veteran-laden team. Quinn has squandered two of the remaining productive Ryan-Jones years on 7-9 finishes, and he is in the process of wasting a third.
Quinn isn’t a bad coach in the Adam Gase class (now that’s damning with some faint praise), but there comes a time when a once-effective coach loses his team once and for all. That time came on Sunday when the Falcons stared at an onside kick on the ground and wondered what they were supposed to do with it.
What’s next for the Atlanta Falcons?
The Falcons host the Bears next week. If Mitch Trubisky somehow drops 35-plus points against their defense, Quinn’s key fob shouldn’t work at the entrance to team headquarters on Monday morning.
Mike Tanier is the Senior NFL Writer for Pro Football Network and the author of NFL Recap. You can follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.