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Falcons’ Ryan takes blame as late interception leads to loss

October 12, 2020 GMT
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Carolina Panthers strong safety Juston Burris (31) picks off the ball intended for Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage (83) in the end zone during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
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Carolina Panthers strong safety Juston Burris (31) picks off the ball intended for Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage (83) in the end zone during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan insisted blame for the team’s latest loss rested on him.

Hours later, it was too late. Coach Dan Quinn was fired.

Ryan bemoaned his poor throw on a potential tying drive in the fourth quarter that was intercepted by Carolina safety Juston Burris in the Panthers’ 23-16 win on Sunday.

The loss left the Falcons 0-5 for the first time since 1997.

Quinn, coming off back-to-back 7-9 finishes, needed to take Atlanta back to the playoffs this season. Five consecutive losses left owner Arthur Blank feeling he had to make a coaching change, as a third straight losing season will be difficult to avoid.

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Ryan spoke to the team after the game and tried to put the loss on his shoulders.

“I just let them know we each have to take responsibility for what’s going on,” Ryan said. “I certainly accept the responsibility. ... We had a chance late in the game and I didn’t pull my weight. We all need collectively to take a look in the mirror and that’s what I’m going to do.”

The Panthers led 20-13 in the fourth quarter when Ryan moved the offense to a third-down play at the Carolina 5.

Ryan tried to pass to Russell Gage at the back on the end zone. Gage didn’t create separation from Burris. Ryan threw behind the receiver, making it too easy for Burris to step in for the interception.

Instead of throwing the ball high so only Gage could have had a chance to make the catch, Ryan’s poor throw crushed the Falcons’ opportunity to tie the game.

It was only Ryan’s third interception of the season, but it was devastating to his team’s hopes of ending its losing streak.

Quinn said the pass was “definitely one Matt would like to have back.”

“I know he can’t throw that one and have any other outcome than incomplete or Russ,” Quinn said.

Ryan also was critical of his missed pass to tight end Hayden Hurst earlier in the fourth quarter. That pass sailed too high in the end zone, leading to a field goal.

The Panthers took advantage of the turnover with a 14-play drive capped by Joey Slye’s 22-yard field goal that stretched the lead to 10 points.

Quinn was 43-42 in six seasons, including 14-23 the last three years.

“His messaging has been on point,” Ryan said. “Our play has not. I know I’d like to play better than I did today. ... Late in the game you’ve got to find a way to punch it in.”

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When asked before his firing was announced if he believes his message is still getting through to his team, Quinn said “100 percent I do.”

Asked if he would understand if Falcons owner Arthur Blank decides a change is necessary, Quinn said “Honestly, it’s the furthest thing from my mind.”

The Falcons are expected to announce an interim coach on Monday. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter or defensive coordinator Raheem Morris could be leading candidates.

General manager Thomas Dimitroff also was fired Sunday night. Team president Rich McKay is taking over football operations on an interim basis while assisting Blank in the search for a full-time coach and GM.

Ryan and other players remained supportive of Quinn to the end.

“I think Dan has been nothing but a great head coach since he’s been here,” Ryan said. “We just haven’t done a good enough job as a team and as players. It’s a hard business for sure, but we all love what Dan has done for this team. We’ve got to do a better job as players.”

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