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Saturday February 29th, 2020 5:19AM

Quinn wants to return as Falcons coach, but status uncertain

By George Henry
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FLOWERY BRANCH (AP) — Dan Quinn wants to return as coach of the Atlanta Falcons for a sixth season. Whether he gets to do so is the decision of one man: team owner Arthur Blank.

With Blank likely waiting to make an announcement until a day or so after Sunday's finale at Tampa Bay, Quinn is trying to stay focused on finishing 7-9 for a second straight year.

Quinn is under contract through 2022 and has no intention of stepping down. He hopes to have another chance to return Atlanta to the playoffs.

“Yeah, of course, right," Quinn told The Associated Press on Monday. “But like I said, as far as thinking outside — what if I don't? — I just try to push that aside and hold onto the thoughts about us getting better."

The Falcons have gone 5-2 in the second half of the season, but it's kind of a moot point after they were one of the first three teams eliminated from playoff contention nearly one month ago. Quinn, whose team has won three straight including an impressive victory at San Francisco two weeks ago, sees no point in belaboring his job status in public.

“It's a fair question, but honestly I just kind of made a pact that I'm battling straight at it," Quinn told the AP. “Anything else that I take away from the team, to me, it's all about the team. Anything I do would distract from that. From anybody, I just couldn't think of a bigger waste of my time than just trying to get it right, not what if I don't. So that's kind of been how I've approached it for a while and how I'll continue to do so."

Blank re-signed Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff to three-year extensions in July 2018, a few months after they helped lead Atlanta to a second straight run in the playoffs.

Dimitroff's status is in limbo, too, though Quinn was given the final say in football matters when he was hired and Dimitroff has been GM since 2008. The Falcons have cultivated just five regular starters — defensive end Takk McKinley in 2017, receiver Calvin Ridley and cornerback Isaiah Oliver in 2018 and offensive linemen Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary last spring — out of 20 picks in the past three drafts.

Atlanta hasn't signed a significant free agent since center Alex Mack in 2016. The team spent wisely in extending veterans Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones and, to a lesser extent, Desmond Trufant and Vic Beasley.

The Falcons considered themselves Super Bowl contenders heading into last season, but struggled with so many starters — Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco — injured and were 4-9 before winning the last three games.

Quinn fired all three coordinators last January, and the changes made little difference. Atlanta lost Neal in Week 3 to a season-ending injury, but his status had no real bearing on a 1-7 start before a stunning upset at New Orleans. The Falcons won the next week, too, but Quinn's status landed in further jeopardy when they lost consecutive weeks at home against Tampa Bay and the Saints.

WHAT'S WORKING

Ryan, the 2016 NFL MVP, and Jones, a seven-time Pro Bowl, remain an electrifying pair in their ninth season together.

In Sunday's 24-12 win over Jacksonville, Ryan and Jones connected for 10 catches and 166 yards. It marked the 55th game of 100 yards in Jones' career, and he needs three more to pass Marvin Harrison for third place on the career list. Jones also became the quickest in NFL history — 125 games — to reach 12,000 yards receiving.

Ryan passed for 384 yards to surpass 4,000 yards for the ninth straight season. Only New Orleans' Drew Brees, from 2006-17, has more in league history.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The Falcons committed nine penalties to push the season total to 114, sixth-most in the league.

STOCK UP

Beasley has eight sacks, the second-highest total in his five-year career, and four in his last three games. Beasley, a first-round draft pick five years ago, had two sub-par seasons after leading the NFL with 16 1/2 sacks in 2016.

STOCK DOWN

Left guard Wes Schweitzer had two penalties in the first half, a false start on fourth-and-1 at the Jacksonville 19 that resulted in a field goal, and a flag for holding that wiped out a 9-yard run and led to a punt.

INJURED

Left guard James Carpenter, placed on season-ending injured reserve last week, is expected to make a full recovery after missing the final three games with a concussion.

KEY NUMBER

28 — The Falcons' total number of sacks, which ranks 28th. Atlanta has nine the last three weeks, but it had just four in the first seven games.

NEXT STEPS

All that's left is three days of practice and a finale of no real consequence. Blank will likely announce his decision on Quinn and Dimitroff early next week.

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