Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank and coach Dan Quinn had different takes on the onside kick blunder that led to the Falcons’ stunning 40-39 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, a loss that dropped Atlanta to 0-2 and sparked more speculation about Quinn’s future with the team.
Falcons players Jaeden Graham, Hayden Hurst, and Olamide Zaccheaus failed to aggressively fall on an onside kick by Greg Zuerlein, a kick recovered by Cowboys defensive back and former Falcon C.J. Goodwin. The Cowboys took possession with 1 minute, 48 seconds left in the game down 39-37 and finished off the win with Zuerlein’s 46-yard field goal as time expired.
Blank, appearing on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday to promote his new book “Good Company,” was asked by hosts Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan to talk about his feelings on the plane ride home from the game.
“Well, you think about, do you want to respond out of doing something that’s immediate and respond out of disappointment, that sadness, maybe anger, frustration, which all of our fans felt, and I understand why,” Blank said. “Or think about, ‘How do we correct this? There’s 14 more games to play in the season. We have a lot of games left to play.’
“There are certain aspects of our performance in the first two games which have been really good. Some other parts have not been good. Clearly our defense is not playing at the level we want to see it play at. And clearly on the last play of the game yesterday our players, you know, didn’t do what they, you know, either what they were instructed to do and they didn’t understand it, or, it’s clear, though, they didn’t, in my view, they didn’t clearly understand what the rules were and exactly what they had to do. I think that’s demonstrated when you watch the video of it.”
When he addressed the media at 3:30 p.m. ET — and before the Blank interview at 4:45 p.m. — Quinn said his special-teamers knew the rules and what to do.
“The execution, like I said earlier, is on everybody; players and coaches,” Quinn said. “I can remember years ago Bill Walsh saying that, and it was as true then as it is today. So, when those [onside kicks] happen, we call a timeout prior to to take a look. Usually two types of onside kicks take place: one that’s a high bouncer or one, if you don’t use a tee, that can be a low roller to go. Certainly the players know the rule. There was some talk regarding that. But if you think it’s going to go out of bounds or not make it to the 10 to the restraining line, that’s an option to back off.
“But when the moment comes to be aggressive for the ball, you always take that moment. So when it got where it got close to the line, we like to say, ‘Go aggressive and get on it and go take your chance to go finish it off.’ When we didn’t do that, that’s disappointing for us.”
Tight ends Graham and Hurst, along with wide receiver Zaccheaus, seemed to have the best shot at the ball. Safety Sharrod Neasman appeared to make the most aggressive attempt toward the ball, but Goodwin got on it first. Star receiver Julio Jones was a good 7 yards back and probably not in best position to attack the ball, especially while hampered by a hamstring injury.
The Falcons’ front-line guys are always taught if the ball is coming in hot or above your head, go block. If it’s a slower roller or something you can field cleanly, be aggressive and get it. Special teams coach Ben Kotwica has the players practice those scenarios on Saturdays, and there’s a dedicated hands-team meeting that morning.
Immediately after the game Sunday, Quinn was asked whether the players understood the rules.
“Well, I think they definitely know,” Quinn said. “The front three are usually blocking as they’re going and the high bouncers go to the second side. So, the front line, generally on an onside kick, they’re looking to get a block first and the high hop goes to the next player. When that instance happens and it’s not one that’s a high hopper, then you just transfer in and you go to your ball, but you’re looking at your assignment first of who you have to go block — certainly the ball and then your assignment. They definitely know the rule.”
The Falcons will look to recover Sunday at home against the 2-0 Chicago Bears. Blank made clear his expectations to make the playoffs this season after back-to-back 7-9 seasons.