New coach Dan Quinn has the Atlanta Falcons believing they can win.
A 3-0 start proves that his high energy level is paying off, but Quinn isn’t always Mr. Nice Guy.
He showed as much while the first half was unraveling Sunday at Dallas. Quinn called his defensive linemen over to the sideline and held nothing back.
Quinn said “it hurt” to yell at his players, but he didn’t regret the message.
“We got punched in the mouth and sometimes you taste your own blood and you don’t like it,” Quinn said. “I think we found out about who we were in the second half, how tight we were and how hard we wanted to play for one another — the effort it takes to play really good football.”
Quinn toned down his disappointment at halftime. Rather than lament nine plays covering at least 14 yards and four Dallas touchdowns, Quinn told everyone to focus on improving their attitudes and technique.
His tactic worked. The Cowboys were shut out in the second half while Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman led the offense to three touchdowns in the 39-28 win.
A former defensive coordinator who helped Seattle win a Super Bowl and two NFC titles, Quinn takes tackling technique personally, and he was furious to see nine whiffs in the first half. The Falcons missed just two tackles in the second half.
“There were some minor things, but it was really our mindset and attitude that took over for us,” Quinn said. “As hard as it was (to watch), it was great to see the connection. There was never a pointing of the finger or ‘why did you do this and I’ll do this.’ You can see how tight these guys are getting right in front of us. That gets me as fired up as anything.”
William Moore’s interception, which led to an Atlanta touchdown, was a rare defensive highlight in the first half, but the Falcons got rolling in the third and fourth quarters.
Desmond Trufant and Ricardo Allen both made a third-down stop. Vic Beasley and Adrian Clayborn each had a third-down sack.
The Cowboys had a staggering 20 first downs in the first half, but managed just three in the second.
“If you stop your feet (on defense) and you’re not closing to the guy, he restarts and that’s when the missed tackles occur,” Quinn said. “We’re going to keep drilling it like crazy. We’re a leverage-based tackling team, so let’s make sure we get the details just right.”
Jones and Freeman carried the offense with 226 yards on a combined 27 touches in the second half.
Jones, a two-time Pro Bowl selection and a former No. 6 overall draft choice, is a well-known player who leads the NFL with 440 yards from scrimmage.
But the 5-foot-8 Freeman, a former fourth-round pick, was making his first career start and had fallen behind Tevin Coleman on the depth chart.
He was still seeking his first breakout game since helping Florida State win a national championship two seasons ago, but Coleman’s rib injury gave Freeman a chance.
“I think he really demonstrated the toughness,” Quinn said. “He’s one of the guys that really set it off for us. He’s such a competitor. When guys get that look about them, he had it.”
Quinn has it, too.
“I hope when people watch us play that the effort comes through, the toughness comes through, the finish comes through,” he said. “No, I don’t think (players were surprised at his outburst). We’ve known each other now for nine months.”
Note: Starting TE Jacob Tamme likely won’t play when Houston (1-2) visits the Georgia Dome. He has been placed in the league’s concussion protocol after getting hurt at Dallas.