Falcons owner Arthur Blank obviously took quite a bit into consideration before announcing his decision to retain general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn on Friday.
Blank and Rich McKay, the Falcons president and CEO, will point to the second-half turnaround as a huge factor, but it had to be more specific than that. Nothing reshaped my view of this team more than the road wins over the Saints, Panthers and 49ers.
As Blank pointed out, the Falcons were "not where we wanted to be" midway through the season and the 1-7 start was "horrific by any standard." It was so bad that following a sixth straight loss, Blank decided to meet with the media outside the Falcons locker room, stating that he was “extraordinarily disappointed” and that he would take "the next couple of weeks to evaluate things."
- Falcons retain Thomas Dimitroff, Dan Quinn
- Morris to take over as defensive coordinator
- Why Arthur Blank made this decision
- Arthur Blank on change to football structure
- Arthur Blank on the message this sends to fans
- Rich McKay on Dan Quinn and Raheem Morris
- McKay on new role, structure, ongoing evaluation
While we now know where those evaluations ultimately led Blank, much has happened with the Falcons since that home loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 27, right before the bye week.
To sum it up, the Falcons did an about-face and turned their season around.
No, they haven't won every single game since then, but they have gone an impressive 5-2 so far. And while every single win and loss counts the same in the standings, we all know that some wins (or losses) simply matter more than others.
Don't think so? Think again.
If the Falcons don't win three games in particular – at New Orleans, at Carolina and at San Francisco – it's my opinion that we're having much different conversations today about the current state of the Falcons.
Yes, I think those stunning road wins against two of the best teams in the league – the Saints and 49ers – and a third over a Panthers team that was still fighting to keep its playoff hopes alive, changed the course of this franchise (or kept it on its current path … time will tell).
I became more convinced of it as I listened to Blank explain his thought process during his evaluation of the Falcons.
"The question really is for me, were the improvements that were made, were they significant enough and did they show enough of a trend line that I feel that there's reason to believe we can carry that kind of record and that kind of performance over to the year 2020 – and my answer is yes," Blank said in an interview with AtlantaFalcons.com.
Two words stand out to me in that comment: "significant" and "trend."
It would have been one thing if the 1-7 Falcons had gone down to New Orleans, kicked the Superdome doors in and whipped the 7-1 Saints (and their fifth-ranked defense) and then reverted right back to playing like they had for the first eight games.
And if we're all being honest here, a lot of us wondered if that 26-9 win was some sort of fluke at the time.
Turns out it wasn't a fluke, but it was significant.
The very next week the Falcons went up to Charlotte and completely dominated the Panthers, 29-3, with the defense leading the way. The Panthers didn't score for the first three quarters, marking only the second time that's ever happened in the Ron Rivera era (which has since ended).
Back-to-back dominating road wins over division rivals? Not only was it significant, a trend was developing (there's those two words again). The Falcons were starting to win, and their much-maligned defense was suddenly leading the way.
And let's be very clear when it comes to the defense: Quinn's decision to reshuffle his coaching staff during the bye week and re-assign play-calling duties to Jeff Ulbrich and Raheem Morris was extremely gutsy and has undoubtedly paid huge dividends.
None of this happens if Quinn doesn't check his ego at the door and make those bold decisions.
That said, the Falcons still headed out to Bay Area sporting a 4-9 record and were decided underdogs against an 11-2 49ers team that, at the time, was holding on the top seed in the NFC. No one gave the Falcons a shot, and understandably so.
Yet they did it again, this time in come-from-behind fashion to stun San Francisco in the final seconds for a 29-22 win at Levi's Stadium.
"I think our guys played hard, they just played better than us and coached better," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game.
The Falcons not only didn't quit on their coach when they were a their lowest point, they've only played harder for Quinn in going 5-2 down the stretch. And that speaks volumes.
Back to Blank's points.
Were there improvements?
Were they significant ones?
Did they show enough of a trend line to suggest that they could carry this over into 2020?
Well, we know the owner's answers to those questions – and I'd have to agree.
A lot went into that second-half turnaround. Quinn's bold decisions, improved communication, and the coaches putting players in position to do what they do best – make plays. But nothing grabbed our attention more and made us rethink our opinions of this team – and this staff – more than those three wins during the second half.
"When you look at it in terms of a 5-2 record, you won three games on away fields that were very, very competitive in San Francisco to be certain, New Orleans to be absolutely certain and even against Carolina, who at that time was a competitive team," Blank said.
Blank is right. And without those three wins, I am fairly certain that I would be writing a much different column today.