PHILADELPHIA – When the game is on the line, put it in the hands of your best players.
That was the Falcons' mentality on a fourth-and-2 call with just over a minute remaining in a 10-15 divisional round game against the Eagles. On their final offensive play of the season, the Falcons called a play for their two best players: Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.
Unfortunately for Atlanta, the play was unsuccessful. But head coach Dan Quinn did not regret the choice to put the game in the hands of his top playmakers.
"Damn right," Quinn said after the game when asked if he felt confident in Ryan on that fourth down. "Yeah, absolutely. We're giving our shots to Matt and Julio to go for it to win the game. We didn't get the job done, but 100 out of 100 we're going to try to put the ball in those two guys' hands to try to go win it."
Since his arrival, Quinn has brought an aggressive mentality to Atlanta. He does not flinch in pressure-filled situations, and it's a quality that can be attributed to his team.
The Falcons were picked by many pundits to upset the Eagles, but they were still the NFC's No. 6 seed playing on the road against the No. 1 seed in one of the league's most hostile environments. Despite that, they had an opportunity to win the game in the final minutes.
On their final drive, it was the Falcons' top offensive weapons who made play after play.
Running back Tevin Coleman began the drive with a 7-yard run and added another 10-yard run late in the possession. Ryan was 6-of-10 for 62 yards, including a few high-pressure throws in critical situation. Jones made several clutch grabs, highlighted by a 20-yard catch on a fourth-and-6 that could have ended the game.
Atlanta's decision to run a sprint rollout on the final play of the game was questioned during Quinn's press conference, largely due to the reason it cut the field in half. Quinn defended the call, saying the miss was the result of lack of execution rather than poor play design.
"You oftentimes get man-to-man in those scenarios," Quinn said. "So, as a former defensive coordinator, I recognize that's a play that people do employ. We were looking for that opportunity and that matchup on that specific play. That's what we thought was going to be the best play called for that time."
The matchup that Quinn seemed to be referring to was Jones on Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills. It appeared as though Jones was running a comeback route to the right sideline, but he slipped coming out of his break, leaving Ryan to look for a second option.
"It just didn't work out," Ryan said of the final play during his post-game press conference, "and that's disappointing. That's the life that you kind of live as a competitor. When you get in those situations, you want the ball in your hands. We're disappointed that we didn't make the play, but I thought it was a good call. It felt like we had the right players in mind at the right time, and we just fell a little bit short."
Quinn and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian can't be faulted for placing their trust in Ryan, the league's reigning MVP, and Jones, one of the top receivers on the planet. The pair have combined for countless jaw-dropping plays in their career, and there are sure to be more to come.
Saturday night was a disappointing outcome for the Falcons, who took every team's best shot throughout the season and still managed to become the only NFC team to return to the postseason.
"The reason I play this game is to win a championship," Ryan said. "That's why we put in all of the hard work that we put in all of the time. And when you don't get that result, it's difficult. But falling short sometimes is the best motivation to keep pushing forward and trying to yearn to become a better player, to become a better team, and I've never shied away from that. I always feel like it provides great motivation, and there's a fire inside me that continues to burn. I'm not going to stop working until we get that done."