ATLANTA -- Dan Quinn's mantra when he became the Atlanta Falcons coach in 2015 was to play "fast and physical," particularly on the defensive side of the ball, with Quinn being a defensive-minded coach.
His 2020 team is not living up to those words, and that could cost Quinn his job.
The Falcons, playing without star receiver Julio Jones, fell to 0-5 Sunday after a 23-16 home loss to the Carolina Panthers. No team in NFL history has recovered from an 0-5 start to make the playoffs in the Super Bowl era.
The pressure has been on Quinn for weeks to turn things around, but now his hot seat is hotter than ever. It's up to owner Arthur Blank to decide whether he just chalks up 2020 as a lost season and waits until season's end to make a coaching move, or if Blank thinks someone on the current coaching staff can provide a jolt in an interim role the rest of the way. Or maybe the Falcons make a coordinator change or two.
Whatever happens, the Falcons certainly didn't play like a desperate team trying to save their coach's job Sunday. They are 0-5 for the first time since 1997.
Yes, Matt Ryan threw a costly fourth-quarter interception in the end zone on a bad decision that could have changed the complexion of the game. And yes, cornerback Isaiah Oliver's season-long struggles continued as he surrendered a 57-yard touchdown to D.J. Moore in man coverage. But to put it simply, the Falcons were nowhere near as "fast and physical" as they needed to be in a must-win game.
Defenders constantly were run over, particularly by diminutive but powerful Panthers running back Mike Davis (5-foot-9, 220). The Falcons gave up 312 yards and allowed Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to complete 74% of his passes in the first half. When the Panthers had to eat clock late with the lead, the Falcons couldn't make tackles and continued to give up extra yards. On a day when the Falcons needed to come with pressure the most, they couldn't sack Bridgewater.
Now it's time to see what Blank's mindset is. He said after consecutive 7-9 seasons that the playoffs were the standard for this season. That Super Bowl hangover from Super Bowl LI just won't go away.
Promising trend: Running back Todd Gurley seems to be looking stronger and stronger in the run game with each passing week. Not only did Gurley rush for 100 yards for the first time since 2018, he also turned the corner and displayed his speed on a 35-yard touchdown run. It was Gurley's longest score since his 80-yard touchdown reception in Week 16 of 2017. The 35-yarder also was the fifth-longest touchdown run of Gurley's career, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The preseason concerns about Gurley's surgically repaired left knee don't seem to be as talked about these days. And Gurley played like a guy who wanted to save Quinn's job.
Troubling trend: Jones missed his second game of the season while dealing with a left hamstring injury. Jones played only one half in last week's loss at Green Bay. It was wise of the Falcons to keep Jones from playing this week, but you have to wonder how long that hamstring injury is going to linger. Of course, the Falcons are a much better team with Jones on the field.
"You're taking one of the best players of all time out of your lineup, so it's not going to be the same," offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said of running the offense without Jones. "There's just no way it can be the same. ... No team wants to take an elite player out of the game. That's a challenge just because those guys like Julio make plays that you don't plan for. They make spectacular plays."
The Falcons also saw defensive end Takkarist McKinley go back down with a groin injury that already has cost him game time this season.