INDIANAPOLIS -- Almost a month later, Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn reflected on his team's historic collapse in a 34-28 overtime loss to New England in Super Bowl LI, a loss that could linger for quite some time considering the Falcons blew a 25-point lead.
"When they ask me if I've watched it, I say, 'Yes, I am past it. I am not over it,'" Quinn said Wednesday at the NFL combine. "I don't think I ever will be, and that's a good thing. Sometimes those kinds of experiences propel you to have the types of offseasons that you'd like to have.
"The analogy I use for our team [is] we're fighters. For those who cover our team on a regular basis, you know we talk about boxing quite a bit. And we got our ass knocked down on the canvas. You get back up and you go fight again. That's kind of what this offseason is about for us."
Specifically, Quinn revisited the late-game playcalling by former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan that came under so much scrutiny following the Super Bowl. There was a chance for the Falcons to secure their first-ever Super Bowl title despite losing the momentum, but a first-and-10 at the Patriots' 23-yard line with 4:40 left in regulation and a 28-20 lead turned into a punt that led to the game-tying score, forcing overtime.
Quinn was asked if he thought that he should have demanded Shanahan, now the 49ers head coach, run the ball a few more times in that situation to milk the clock and assure a field goal try. The Falcons ran Devonta Freeman on first down, but saw Matt Ryan sacked while dropping back to pass on second down. Then a holding penalty against Jake Matthews on third down pushed the Falcons out of field goal range.
"The first [play], we had a tackle for a loss," Quinn recalled. "On the second one, we had a play going to our best player [Julio Jones] thrown by the league's MVP [Matt Ryan]. ... I was on the headset, so I own that call, too. If we complete the ball on that one and don't take a sack, that's a gutsy call and it moves the chains.
"And the next play, a consequence of being out of field goal range, we threw it, and Matt threw a really good ball to Mo [Mohamed Sanu]. And we had a holding penalty. So the consequences were real. Those are the what-ifs that you go through, and it goes down a long list. If you told me if we ran it two more times where there's going to be no penalties and gain yards, then, yeah, I would have signed up for that. Honestly, the fact that when you go back through those, you learn from them. If there's ways to do it better, we're going to find those."
Quinn, who confirmed he took over the defensive playcalling for now-departed defensive coordinator Richard Smith in Week 13 of the regular season, also discussed if playing more man-to-man coverage against the Patriots led to his defense wearing down even more so. The Patriots ran 93 offensive plays compared to 46 for the Falcons.
"I did go back and watch the second half again; we played 29 snaps of man and 27 snaps of zone," Quinn said. "So, sometimes it may look like the way we play our zone is our man-to-man. The what-if game for sure is there and say, 'Could we have changed our leverage and not played man-to-man or played zone or played it differently?' Any time you have over 90 plays, you're going to look tired. There's byproducts of that: not playing as well on third down. We didn't have a good game third down offensively for some drives to extend and continue.
"What I was pleased about in the game was we had eight tackles for loss, we had five sacks, we had two turnovers. We scored on defense. What I wasn't happy about was all the explosive plays that they had. Some were a result of missed tackles. Some were a result of they made good plays, which happens, too. But at the end of it, I always look back and say, 'OK, what could we have done better?' That's just not in that game. It gets magnified in that game because, 'All right, if we had had a different call and played zone snap when we had a man snap, would the execution have been different?' You've got to do what you think is best at the time. At the time, I thought that playing man-to-man was going to be the best way to deny the ball."