Steve Sarkisian joined the Atlanta Falcons with the daunting task of replicating one of the league’s most explosive offenses in its history.
He did a decent job in 2017, enough for the Falcons to qualify for the postseason and score an upset win over the Los Angeles Rams in their wild-card meeting. He was doing just enough to keep the Falcons in their Divisional Round game Saturday against the Eagles, too, until fourth-and-goal in the final 65 seconds of the game.
With Atlanta trailing by five and the season on the line, Sarkisian elected to call a sprint out for Matt Ryan, who’s one of the league’s best pocket passers but is most definitely not the best at throwing on the run. The play call forced Ryan to sprint out right, surveying and floating in space under the pressure of a pass rush, left only to toss it up in vain to Julio Jones. The play ended in an incompletion, a turnover on downs and the end of Atlanta’s quest to defend its NFC title.
“It’s called a sprint pass, a sprint out,” Quinn said. “Often times you may get it man-to-man in those scenarios. As a former defensive coordinator, I recognize that’s a plan that people do employ. We were looking for that opportunity, that matchup on that specific play. That’s what we thought was going to be the best play call for that time.
“There was no stress from a time standpoint. We had our timeouts. That’s what we thought was the best play to go win the game. We didn’t execute it and they did. That’s really where the story is on that play.”
A week after putting 26 points on the board against the NFL’s 19th-ranked defense, Atlanta struggled for much of the afternoon, scoring just 10 points against the league’s No. 4 unit. The Falcons converted just 4 of 13 third-down attempts. Those numbers usually don’t equal success.
Under such a microscope in that high-stakes, late-game situation, Sarkisian didn’t succeed. Decisions such as those have sunk coordinators in the past.
Atlanta’s offense went from first in points per game under Kyle Shanahan in 2016 to 15th under Sarkisian in 2017. The Falcons morphed from a team that won on by scoring truckloads of points to one that edged opponents on the strength of its defense. With that (and Atlanta’s collection of talent) considered, changes could be ahead.
“I recognize that goes with the job and so does Sark,” Quinn said. “Like all things we access it all the way through. How can we do things better. There’s a lot of things that Sark has brought to our team that we really like in turns of, that could take a long time to go through the different spots. So it’s easy to place blame all onto one person. That’s a shared responsibility when we don’t achieve at the level that we would like to.
“There’s a lot of really good things that we’ve done. It was highlighted certainly tonight where we didn’t get the job done at the end of the game. So I recognize the question. Like all parts of the organization with Thomas and I, we access and see how we can do things better. There’s certainly parts offensively that we’ll want to do better, defensively as well. So all phases we’ll really access and look into.”
They’ll have plenty of time to look into it, thanks to that fateful call made on the doorstep of victory.