FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Of course Dan Quinn wants to see his Atlanta Falcons finish with a flourish, even with them already eliminated from the playoff picture
It would mean something to end the season on a three-game winning streak and with the taste of knocking Carolina from the ranks of the undefeated still fresh in the players' mouths. It would be significant to finish with a victory against bitter rival New Orleans, the team that ended the Falcons' 5-0 start back in October.
Finishing 9-7 rather than 8-8 definitely matters as the Falcons conclude the season against the Saints (6-9) at the Georgia Dome Sunday.
"It clearly does," Quinn said. "Absolutely does. It’s also a division game, and knowing the attitude and the style that we want to play with, but for sure it is. Everything counts. It’s a really important one for us and one that obviously when we went down there the first time we didn’t have a chance to play our best ball, and they played a good game. That’s why we’re so jacked to play this one."
Sunday also gives Quinn a chance to take one more look at the players he believes will help this team in the future. There are decisions to be made regarding which veterans need to be cut, which positions need to be upgraded.
Quinn already made one move by cutting ties with wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, who is now with his third team after being cut by the Patriots and claimed by the Bills. And now nose tackle Paul Soliai, the team's big free-agent signing from a couple years ago, is unlikely to finish the season with a calf strain, which makes you wonder if he's played his final game with the team.
Quinn was asked what the season finale could mean regarding his evaluation of the roster.
"Well, for sure, it can help some guys out," he said. "If it’s just one guy that maybe makes the impression, are we going to feature him in different ways to do something, usually that’s with the younger guys.
"With most of the veteran guys, I have a pretty good understanding of all the strengths that they have and what they can bring to the team, but for sure there’s probably a player or two that I want to make sure there’s something to find out and gain from, and we’ll see that. Most importantly, their performance for each other is at hand, but for sure I can gain something on some of the younger guys."
That group of younger guys includes Malliciah Goodman, a former fifth-round pick who got his most extensive action (36 snaps) against Carolina because of injuries to Soliai and rookie Grady Jarrett (shoulder) but didn't take advantage of the opportunity. Defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman can push people around, but he still needs to show he can be consistently effective in this defensive scheme. Strong safety Kemal Ishmael has gotten his chance with William Moore (ankle) placed on injured reserve, so now Ishmael can show he can be more than just a fill-in.
Players who signed one-year contracts such as linebacker O'Brien Schofield, linebacker Philip Wheeler, cornerback Phillip Adams, and right guard Chris Chester have a chance to leave one final impression. Adams did so in the upset of Carolina, including nearly picking off a Cam Newton pass.
Quinn wants his players to understand they need to control their own postseason destinies in the future rather than hoping for scenarios around them to fall in their favor. That's why he used a reference to boxing legend Marvin Hagler to get his point across Monday.
"One of my favorite (fighters), Marvin Hagler, and in his first chance at a good title fight against [Vito] Antuofermo ended up in a draw and the belt stayed with Antuofermo," Quinn said. "After that Hagler responded and said, 'I’ll never let it go into anybody else’s hands again, and I’ll make sure I do the things I have to do to get the job done.'
"It was more a lot about that; 'let’s make sure we don’t have to leave it up to anybody else.' That was my message for the guys to make sure when you have to wait on other things to happen and all these trickle-down effects have to happen usually those aren’t good."