ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel watches from the sideline in the second half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. The Titans won 35-32. (AP Photo/James Kenney)

Were you to go back two days to the pre-1 p.m. kickoff slot of another NFL Sunday, it's doubtful if the fan bases of either the Atlanta Falcons or Tennessee Titans would have minded much if they'd been told that both franchises would be looking for new head coaches by nightfall.

The Falcons' Dan Quinn has been on the hot seat for most of the season. It was even assumed that he'd be fired during the bye week that preceded Sunday's trip to New Orleans. Atlanta entered that contest with a 1-7 mark that included a six-game losing streak. With the hated Saints standing 7-1 before kickoff, most Falcons fans' opinion concerning the presumed dismissal of Quinn was, "What is (team owner) Arthur Blank waiting on?"

Then there was the Titans' second-year head man Mike Vrabel. With Tennessee about to host the Kansas City Chiefs and their returning-from-injury superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes, there seemed little doubt that the Titans were about to drop to 4-6 overall, which would all but guarantee them a second straight season out of the playoffs.

When you fired the guy that had guided you not just to the playoffs but a postseason win over those same Chiefs at the close of the 2017 season — and Mike Mularkey also had broken an eight-year playoff drought with that appearance — the inability of Vrabel to continue or build on that brief success was leading to a Nissan Stadium half full of opposing fans more Sundays than not.

And as the Titans took the Nissan field against the Chiefs, there certainly appeared to be more KC red than Music City blue.

So what happened? Atlanta rolled to a big, easy 26-9 win over the Saints in the city known as the Big Easy. And 535 miles away, the Titans shocked Kansas City 35-32 in one of the more entertaining games played in Nissan in several years, if not a decade or more.

All of which begs the question, is there any path by which Quinn could keep his job for a sixth season? Furthermore, is Vrabel growing into a coach who can prosper in the NFL, or one who has the odd ability to win the ones he shouldn't while losing the ones he should win?

Let's start with Quinn. His popularity with the fans has grown so cold he could be labeled Quinn the Eskimo. Once a hero in the Big Peach for guiding the Falcons to the Super Bowl at the close of the 2016 season during his second year on the job, he actually may have done his best work the following year, when a team that should have been in therapy after blowing a 28-3 lead to the Patriots in that epic Super Bowl defeat returned to the postseason and almost knocked out Philadelphia on the road. Those Eagles, by the way, went on to win that season's Super Bowl.

some text
Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn walks on the field before an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

But injuries sank last year's team, and this year has been a disaster since an opening-week blowout loss at Minnesota.

Still, Quinn shuffled responsibilities on his coaching staff during the bye week, a defense that had recorded only seven sacks all season prior to Sunday was credited with six against the Saints, and for at least one week the Falcons looked like a playoff team.

"It's a start," Quinn said Monday. "But it's just a start."

If you're a Titans fan, you have to wonder if Sunday's win is the start of a real playoff run or just another Titans tease. They've had these moments before during this season. They crushed the Cleveland Browns. They won at Atlanta with ease. They delivered an inspired goal-line stand to nip the Chargers.

But they also lost four of five while beating the Falcons, the Titans offense with quarterback Marcus Mariota at the helm often as weak as wet tissue paper.

Mariota is at the helm no longer. This is Ryan Tannehill's offense now, and if the win over the Chiefs was any indication, it figures to remain that way as long as he's healthy.

Does that mean Vrabel deserves a longer look and leash as head coach? It would seem that way, especially if the Titans can remain in the playoff hunt against a rugged post-bye schedule that includes two games against AFC South Division-leading Houston, a road trip to surprising Oakland and a visit from the Saints.

By contrast, the only game remaining on the Falcons' schedule that would appear difficult to win — assuming they play anything close to what they showed against the Saints — would be a trip to San Francisco in mid-December.

Of course, as one Falcons fan I know noted Monday, "It would be just like the Falcons to win just enough games to just miss the playoffs, which would leave them drafting 16th or 18th instead of maybe getting a top-three pick."

The hunch here is that both the Titans and Falcons will miss the playoffs. Whether that leads either team to starting over with a new head coach next season probably depends on how close each team comes to playing as it did on Sunday rather than how each too often played on too many earlier Sundays.

some text
Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT