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Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn talks a lot about “being where your feet are.” It’s his way of reminding his players- and himself- to stay in the moment, to not get too hung up on where you’ve been or what’s happened in the past, and to not worry too much about what may be to come down the road.
For seven excruciating days, Quinn’s feet were firmly planted in a week where the focus in Dallas was largely on him. His unit had just been torched by a mediocre Denver squad, and their first chance at a bounceback would just happen to come against the team Quinn coached as recently as last year.
So when the Cowboys smacked Atlanta around on Sunday in as decisive a win as any Dallas fan in a generation can recall, suffice it to say no one was happier to turn the page than Quinn.
“I’ve probably never been as excited to end a week and start a new one,” Quinn told reporters this week at The Star. “I love being right where I’m at- right where my feet are- and I try to stay there. So last week was tough, to have everyone want to go take a trip back down Memory Lane. More than anything, I just love being in the moment, right where we’re at, week-to-week, and staying in it. Definitely glad to get rocking again this week.”
The defense’s dominating performance was impressive to watch. That it came against the club that axed Quinn after just five games in 2020- and barely three seasons removed from a Super Bowl appearance- added the kind of emotional significance that’s usually reserved for the movies.
Sunday’s script ended with a 43-3 exclamation point and Quinn being given the game ball.
“I was totally unprepared for that. And it meant a lot. I would say when you get fired mid-year, it’s hard. You’re embarrassed, you’re pissed,” Quinn admitted. “But, man, what a good feeling to know that there’s a whole army of people that got your back.”
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) November 14, 2021
“It was a very cool moment,” Quinn continued, “one that I was taken aback by.”
The moment made a splash on social media in the wake of the statement win. Quinn may have seemed speechless in the moment, but the 51-year-old who’s prone to lacing his vocabulary with four-letter words says he found a few choice ones right after that clip ended.
“I don’t think you guys saw what I said after; I’m pretty sure that’s why it was cut pretty quick,” Quinn shared. “The clean version: I’m so darn excited. And they’re some really tough guys. We’ll leave it at that.”
Quinn’s players confirmed that the coordinator didn’t treat the week of prep any differently. He, by all accounts, stayed right where his feet were.
“I don’t even think Q worried about the Atlanta Falcons,” rookie linebacker Micah Parsons said. “I think Q just wanted to come out here and punch somebody in the mouth after last week. It was the first week I ever saw Q’s face turn red at practice. I think this meant more, him being here for the Cowboys, than it meant him trying to get some type of agenda against Atlanta.”
“Anytime you go out there and have a performance [like that], it doesn’t matter who we play,” noted cornerback Jourdan Lewis. “It feels good.”
But facing a former team- one that he built, one where he still has friends and players he’s close to- does mean something different, whether Quinn admitted it out loud or not.
“It was personal. We knew that Monday,” defensive end Dorance Armstrong explained. “We just went out there and executed the game for him.”
“He didn’t even talk about it,” cornerback Trevon Diggs said of Quinn and the highly-anticipated rematch. “But we kind of read each other’s minds. We know what’s going on.”
“He should have a Super Bowl,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones commented on Dallas radio Tuesday. “He really should have a Super Bowl. But I’m not only proud for him, but I’m proud we got him. It’s contagious for the team. It was poetic for him to come in there beaming, into that dressing room after the game, to have basically put a plan together that was as effective as it [was] against his old team.”
“To be honest with you, he downplayed it to everybody,” said head coach Mike McCarthy when asked about Quinn’s rematch with the Falcons. “He didn’t even talk about it. I just think that it was obvious and obviously it meant a lot to him after the fact. We needed to win on a lot of fronts, so it was great to recognize him with the game ball.”
Quinn’s dramatic and sudden turnaround of the worst defense in franchise history will make him a popular name when coaching jobs start to come open around the league in a matter of weeks. But no matter where Quinn’s career takes him, Sunday’s game ball will have a special place on his mantel.
“I haven’t asked him where it’s going,” team executive vice president Stephen Jones laughed in a radio interview Monday, “but I know the whole team was so fired up for DQ. He’s got such energy, and certainly he wasn’t at all pleased with the week before, how we played. As I said, it was an across-the-board loss for our team the week before, and I know, probably more importantly than even beating the Falcons, was to come back and clean up a really subpar performance in terms of what we did not only as a team but, obviously, his area on defense.”
Matt Ryan's 21.4 passer rating today is the lowest of his career.
— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) November 15, 2021
And now Quinn can get back to being where his feet are, which is prepping for a trip to the always-daunting Arrowhead Stadium to face the AFC’s representative at the past two Super Bowls.
The motto around the Cowboys facility after the Broncos beatdown was, “Spaceships don’t have rearview mirrors,” which is another way of wording Quinn’s mantra. That philosophy will come in handy again this week; holding Matt Ryan to a career-lowest passer rating in Week 10 certainly won’t mean a thing in Week 11 when the defense has to line up against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
“One, they’ve got an excellent scheme and unique ways to feature players: deep routes and screens; they’ll work the whole field horizontally and vertically, so you’ve got to defend everywhere,” Quinn said of Kansas City’s offense. “And then the second element, against mobile quarterbacks: first play begins, and then, ‘Okay, I’m going to get outside the pocket,’ and they’re exceptional at throwing the ball down the field on the run. And so I think with this quarterback, wherever he is on the field, he can get it to somebody, and has that kind of strong arm to do that.”
The Chiefs rank third in the league in passing yards per game and fourth in total offensive yards per game. Much of that yardage tends to come after Mahomes starts improvising and extending the play.
“We’ll have to be exceptional in our- we call it ‘plaster’- when the second play begins,” Quinn continued. “We’re going to have to be outstanding at that part. Now, fortunately for us, we do a lot of that against our offense with Dak and Kellen and the guys. That’s a big piece of it, but you can’t ever take that for granted. Those six or eight plays that happen in a game where the quarterback is outside of the pocket- maybe start as a quick throw, and then, man, this is going to be a six- or seven-second play.”
The Cowboys defense will need to stay in the moment- especially when Mahomes prolongs the moment- this Sunday. And even though Quinn will have already moved on long past his Falcons game-ball moment by then, he admitted that his new team’s big win over his old team may have helped ground him even further in the here and now.
“Coaches, you know, they throw a lot of clichés out about adversity, and I would say most of them are really true, I think. But anyone who goes through adversity, I think you’d also know it stings a lot. What I probably realized maybe after the game: all week, I said our defense needed to recapture our style and our identity about how we love to play. I think probably afterwards, in the locker room, I probably realized how much I needed to be a part of that win, too. To be part of it, it felt good. And to hear Mike do that and the team have my back, that was a great feeling. I probably didn’t know I needed that, but to be honest with you, I probably did.”
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