Two coaches. Two crushing losses. Two dramatically different roads thereafter.
The first is Pete Carroll, whose final decision — or at least final signoff — in Super Bowl XLIX will be criticized in perpetuity. When Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson’s pass from the 1 five seasons ago, it stained that Seahawks team’s otherwise glistening résumé.
The emotional shift on Richard Sherman’s face on the sideline said more than any sports writer could. That was a gash that could never be sewn completely shut.
The second is Dan Quinn, whose Falcons allowed the Patriots to pull off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history two years later. Quinn was the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks in that loss to New England as well, but his name wasn’t in bright lights like it was during that defeat in Houston.
Quinn had the win. Tom Brady’s greatness aside, Atlanta wouldn’t have blown that 25-point lead had it been smart down the stretch. But like the Seahawks before them, the Falcons endured a permanent blemish.
Two similar heartbreaks. Two wildly dissimilar responses.
The Seahawks have not returned to a conference championship game since that Super Bowl defeat, but they have remained one of the NFL’s most successful teams. They went back to the playoffs in 2015 and beat the Vikings in the first round. They won the division in 2016 and beat the Lions in the first round. They were a missed field goal shy of winning 10 games in 2017, returned to the postseason last year, and are 5-2 now despite losing all but a handful of players from the Super Bowl squad.
Playoffs included, only three teams (the Patriots, Chiefs and Steelers) have won more games than the Seahawks since the start of the 2015 season. That’s a hell of a hydration and Ibuprofen job for that Super Bowl hangover.
As for the Falcons? They still have ice packs on their heads. After their Super Bowl loss, they went from first to third in their division the next year, missed the playoffs the year after that, and now sit 1-6 heading into Sunday’s meeting with the Seahawks.
A headline from the Atlanta Journal Constitution this week read: “The Falcons’ season is gone. Dan Quinn needs to go.” I know it’s subtle and ambiguous, but the writer is suggesting that Quinn hasn’t performed well lately.
As for one of his former players?
“When I think of a head coach, the first thing I think of is someone who can bring the best out of you, a hell of a leader, and that’s the first thing I think about when I think about DQ,” said Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright, adding that he’s someone “you need to have in your building. … (The Falcons) have had a rough start, but it can be fixed.”
Maybe it can eventually, but this season looks bleak. The Falcons are second-to-last in the NFL in points allowed under a supposed defensive guru as a head coach.
I don’t know if Quinn has lost the locker room, but he has lost six games by an average of 13.6 points. His pants would catch fire if he said there was a lot to be optimistic about, which would make sense given how hot his seat is.
What do you think about Quinn’s situation? I asked Seahawks All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner this week.
“You never know what somebody is really going through. He’s over there, I’m over here. But he’s had success early on for a reason,” Wagner said.
Do you feel bad for him at all?
“You have to understand someone’s journey. What if Coach Carroll would have called it quits after coaching the Patriots? Look what he did.”
You could say the same about the current Patriots coach after getting fired in Cleveland. People do bounce back. And as the Seahawks have shown, teams do, too.
It’s unfair how moments that one has no control over can define a legacy in sports. One play here or there, and Quinn has three Super Bowl rings, including one as a head coach.
But maybe leaders should be defined less by their success before heartbreak and more by their success afterward. Carroll has managed to keep the Seahawks afloat. Quinn’s Falcons are all but sunk.