FLOWERY BRANCH — Dan Quinn was tested in his first season as Falcons coach.
He says he learned he could “stay rock-solid” through the grind, which included dramatic highs and lows.
Atlanta finished 8-8 with Sunday’s last-second 20-17 loss to New Orleans. It was an improvement from the 6-10 record in 2014, but still a disappointment following a 5-0 start that sent expectations soaring for a return to the playoffs.
Tests? Quinn’s rookie season as a head coach included six straight losses. The Falcons couldn’t overcome the NFL’s worst pass rush. Atlanta’s 30 turnovers, tied for fifth most in the league, were especially frustrating.
“Those things test you at your core of your philosophies and beliefs,” Quinn said Monday. “Though some of the struggles were painful, it was beneficial to know I could stay rock-solid through those and stay consistent with the guys.”
Quinn has the final say in football operations, but said he wouldn’t discuss possible changes on the roster or his staff until later in the week.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff was spared one year ago when former coach Mike Smith was fired. Dimitroff’s status could be on the line this week. Also, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s job could be in jeopardy after the Falcons’ scoring declined dramatically following the 5-0 start.
Quinn said he told players on Monday, “One cannot understand what it means to be relentless until you struggle to possess something that is just outside your reach.”
The playoffs were the goal which remained outside the Falcons’ reach.
“That hurts,” Quinn said. “We didn’t get that part done.
“I wanted these guys to have something to think about going into the offseason, how hard you have to work, how hard you have to put everything into it.”
Quinn, the former Seattle defensive coordinator, helped the Falcons’ defense improve from the bottom to the middle of the league rankings. But Quinn couldn’t find a way to improve a pass rush which has ranked no better than 28th in the league since 2012.
Defensive end Vic Beasley Jr., the No. 8 overall draft pick from Clemson, led the team with only four sacks. The Falcons were last in the league with 19 sacks.
Quinn said the loss to the Saints was “a perfect microcosm” of the season. Matt Ryan threw a late interception, his 16th of the season, to set up the Saints’ winning field goal. Devonta Freeman lost a fumble inside the New Orleans 5.
“It’s disappointing because we talk all the time about finishing,” Ryan said. “Finishing the right way. That’s what Dan preaches every day and we didn’t do that.”
Some Atlanta players said after the loss that Quinn has the program headed toward better endings.
“I know this coaching staff is on the right track,” said defensive end Kroy Biermann. “Their philosophies are second to none. They know what they are doing. They are getting guys to grow and develop.”
Defensive end Jonathan Babineaux said he had “no doubt” a winning foundation was laid this season.
“With Dan Quinn and his staff, this organization is going to go to a Super Bowl,” Babineaux said. “I guarantee it.”
Asked what he learned about himself this season, Quinn said “I’ve learned the learning never stops.”
Quinn said that learning process included his first NFL draft with the team, maintaining relationships with players, and “testing your own theories when things were going hard.”
He said this week will be dedicated to “self-reflection and evaluation” for players and coaches. He acknowledged the process won’t be easy, including his self-evaluation.
“I probably need some time,” he said.