ATLANTA (AP) — Even with his team eliminated from playoff contention over two weeks ago, Falcons coach Dan Quinn still gets a charge out of watching Matt Ryan and Julio Jones compete.
Ryan and Jones connected for 13 catches, 134 yards and two touchdowns in Atlanta's upset win at San Francisco, and the two longtime veteran stars are showing no signs of slowing.
“That kind of commitment, that kind of toughness of those guys and how hard they want to play for one another, that's really evident, and I expect to see more of that," Quinn said Monday. “That's what we stand for."
How much longer Quinn gets to watch Ryan and Jones up close is known only by Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who will wait until after the season to announce whether Quinn stays or goes.
The best the Falcons can finish is 7-9 for the second straight year. They have won two straight, but are four games under .500 heading into this week's home finale against Jacksonville (5-9) and have had a winning record in just two of Quinn's five seasons. Those were big years — a trip to the Super Bowl and a wild-card victory — but Blank's patience might have been exhausted during a six-game losing streak that torpedoed the season.
Even so, there was plenty for Quinn to expound upon after Atlanta rallied with 19 points in the fourth quarter.
“It took a lot of heart," Quinn said. “I was proud of the effort being down in the fourth quarter. I think it speaks to the resolve of the team to come back and get a hard-fought road win."
There were more bright spots than bad ones. The defense didn't get discouraged after giving up a 21-play touchdown drive on San Francisco's second possession. Jones snapped a nine-game drought without a TD, cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson was the only defender to put a dent in a strong afternoon by 49ers tight end George Kittle, and the offense overcame three punts to begin the second half.
There was no stopping Jones throughout the game, his only setback coming on a dropped pass over the middle in the second half. The two-time All-Pro was clutch on the final drive, catching a 25-yard pass and a 10-yarder before he got the ball over the plane for the decisive score. Of Jones' 82 catches this season, nearly 77 percent have gone for a first down. He finished the day with 13 catches for 134 yards and two TDs.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
There were three gaffes on special teams. The Falcons recovered an onside kick to begin the second half, but the play was wiped because they had 10 men on the field. Jamal Carter's illegal block in the back wiped out a 40-yard punt return by Kenjon Barner, and Barner lost a fumble on a punt return early in the fourth that quickly led to a 49ers touchdown and a 19-10 deficit.
Linebacker De'Vondre Campbell had a game-high 11 tackles, six solo stops, and he forced a recovered a fumble by Matt Breida late in the third. Campbell lined up at end and strong safety, in addition to his regular duties. In his previous five games, Campbell had two sacks, two interceptions and five passes defensed.
Starting defensive end Takk McKinley is out the final two games of the season with a shoulder injury. McKinley, who has previously undergone surgery on both shoulders, left midway through the first quarter and did not return. McKinley, a 2017 late first-round draft pick, has 3 1/2 sacks this year and has just 16 1/2 in his career.
100% — the Falcons scored three TDs on three trips to the red zone.
The loss of McKinley is buffered by the expected return of Allen Bailey (personal reasons) and John Cominsky (ankle) this week. Starting end Vic Beasley will likely be on the injury report this week, but Quinn said he thinks Beasley will be ready.
Atlanta overcame season-ending injuries to receiver Calvin Ridley and cornerback Desmond Trufant the week before, so it will need to do the same with McKinley sidelined.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL