ATLANTA — Dan Quinn, who guided the Atlanta Falcons to only the second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history but infamously squandered a 28-3 lead to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, was fired Sunday night in his sixth season as the team's coach.
The Falcons also fired general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
The moves came hours after the Falcons started 0-5 for the first time since 1997, which included becoming the first team in NFL history to squander fourth-quarter leads of at least 15 points in back-to-back games.
Quinn became the second coach to be fired during the season in Arthur Blank's 18 years as owner. He is the second NFL coach this season to lose his job; the Houston Texans Bill O'Brien dismissed Bill O'Brien after an 0-4 start.
The decisive game for Quinn was a 23-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, leaving him with an overall record of 43-42 but just 14-23 since the beginning of the 2018 season. He was 3-2 in two playoff trips.
Quinn was hired by the Falcons in 2015 after a highly successful run as defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks, highlighted by two straight trips to the Super Bowl.
In 2003, Falcons coach Dan Reeves resigned during the season after being told by Blank he would not be retained.
The Falcons are expected to name an interim coach Monday. Team president and CEO Rich McKay will take over control of football operations in the interim and assist Blank in the search for a new general manager and coach.
"Decisions like these are very difficult, but the previous two seasons and start to this one have been especially hard for me because of the deep love, admiration and respect I and my family have for Dan, Thomas and their families," Blank said in a statement released by the team.
"For many years, they have represented me, our team, organization and Atlanta with class, commitment and all the passion you would want in the leaders of the team. But as everyone knows, this is a results business and I owe it to our fans to put the best product we can on the field. We have poured every resource possible into winning and will continue to do so, but the results of late do not meet our standard or what I've promised our fans. Therefore, we will install new coaching and personnel leadership of the Atlanta Falcons at the appropriate time."
In what would become a troubling hallmark of Quinn's career, the Falcons got off to a brilliant start in his debut season but couldn't maintain it. Atlanta won its first five games and six of its first seven, but an overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sparked a six-game losing streak that eliminated the Falcons from playoff contention. They finished 8-8.
Atlanta bounced back from that disappointment with one of the greatest seasons in team history. Featuring a dynamic offense led by quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman, the Falcons built a locker room camaraderie that Quinn called "The Brotherhood" while winning the NFC South Division title with an 11-5 record.
With blowout wins over Seattle and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC playoffs to close out their history at the Georgia Dome, the Falcons were riding a huge wave of confidence heading to their first Super Bowl since the 1998 season. That carried right into the game against Brady's Patriots, who fell behind by 25 points late in the third quarter while fans back in Atlanta began prepping for a huge celebration.
Not so fast.
With one of the great performances in postseason history — and benefiting from questionable play calling by the Falcons — Brady led a comeback that forced overtime for the first time in a Super Bowl. Naturally, the Patriots won the coin toss and marched right down the field for the clinching touchdown in a 34-28 victory.
"I'll probably never forget this," Falcons safety Ricardo Allen said afterward. "It will always be haunting."
Indeed it was, for Quinn and the entire organization.
The Falcons made the playoffs again the following year, losing to the Philadelphia Eagles, the eventual Super Bowl champions. Poor starts the past two seasons led to 7-9 records that put Quinn's job in jeopardy. Blank decided to bring back his coach for the 2020 season, as well as Dimitroff, saying it was important to maintain continuity and citing strong support for Quinn in the locker room.
After surrendering four touchdown passes to Russell Wilson in a season-opening 38-25 loss to the Seahawks, the next two games rekindled memories of that Super Bowl and essentially served as Quinn's epitaph.
At Dallas, the Falcons led 20-0 and 29-10, were still up 39-24 with 5:00 to go. But the Cowboys scored a pair of touchdowns and recovered an onside kick that made Atlanta the subject of national ridicule. At least five players failed to jump on a slowly spinning ball before Dallas recovered it as soon as it went 10 yards. That set up a field goal on the final play for an improbable 40-39 Cowboys victory.
Not so improbable that it didn't happen again the very next week, minus the onside kick. Leading the Bears 26-10 with less than seven minutes remaining, the Falcons surrendered three touchdown passes to backup quarterback Nick Foles for a 30-26 loss.
Even though Quinn was hired based on his defensive reputation, what happened on that side of the ball was a big reason for his downfall. Only once did the Falcons rank higher than 16th in the league in total yards allowed, and Atlanta surrendered an average of 448.3 yards through four games this year.
The 54-year-old Dimitroff was one of the longest-tenured general managers in the NFL, hired by Atlanta in 2008. One of Dimitroff's first decisions was perhaps his biggest: grabbing quarterback Ryan with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 draft. In 2011, Dimitroff pulled off perhaps his most famous trade, dealing a huge package to the Cleveland Browns for the rights to draft heralded Alabama receiver Jones, who joined Ryan as the franchise's cornerstones.