Falcons owner has an interesting theory on why Cowboys were able to make that miraculous onside kick recovery

It’s not easy to blow a two-score lead over the final five minutes of an NFL game, but the Atlanta Falcons managed to do exactly that against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday and a big reason it happened is because the Falcons were unable to recover a Cowboys onside kick late in the game

The botched recovery attempted by the Falcons allowed the Cowboys to get the ball, which led to a game-winning field goal that gave Dallas a 40-39 win. 

Based on how the Falcons were set up for the onside kick, it should have been an easy recovery, but Atlanta botched it. Following the game, Falcons coach Dan Quinn insisted that everyone on his onside recovery team knew the rules of the play, but one key person in Atlanta isn’t so sure about that, and that person is team owner Arthur Blank. 

During an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio this week, Blank was asked how he felt on the flight home from Dallas. Not only did he give a brutally honest response, but he directly contradicted the answer that was given by his own coach. From Blank’s point of view, the players on the field didn’t know the rules of the onside kick. 

“Clearly our defense is not playing at the level we want to see it play at,” Blank said, via ESPN.com. “And clearly on the last play of the game [against Dallas] our players, you know, didn’t do what they, you know, either what they were instructed to do and they didn’t understand it, or, it’s clear, though, they didn’t, in my view, they didn’t clearly understand what the rules were and exactly what they had to do. I think that’s demonstrated when you watch the video of it.”

Ouch. That’s about as close as you can get to calling out your coaching staff without directly calling them out. The way Blank saw it, the players either didn’t understand the coaching they received or they didn’t know the rules because they didn’t get good enough coaching. Either way, that’s not a good look for Quinn. 

According to Quinn though, the players absolutely knew the rules to the play. 

“Well, I think they definitely know,” Quinn said, via AJC.com. “The front three are usually blocking as they’re going and the high bouncers go to the second side. So, the front line, generally on an onside kick, they’re looking to get a block first and the high hop goes to the next player.”

Of course, this kick wasn’t a “high-hop,” it rolled on the ground, so the Falcons had to adjust. 

“When that instance happens and it’s not one that’s a high hopper, then you just transfer in and you go to your ball, but you’re looking at your assignment first of who you have to go block – certainly the ball and then your assignment,” Quinn said. “They definitely know the rule.”

Apparently, that second part of Quinn’s explanation is where the confusion comes in. Based on what he said, it appears his players reacted to the play as if it was a high-hop kick, even though it wasn’t. 

Of course, it’s also possible that the players on Atlanta’s recover team might have been confused because Quinn’s explanation was confusing. At first, Quinn says, “you go to your ball, but you’re looking at your assignment first,” implying that each player should still be looking to make their block first. In his next breath though, Quinn says the players priorities should be “certainly the ball and then your assignment.”

His confusing explanation might actually explain why his team appeared so flummoxed on the field. 

Here’s a look at that play, along with why things  might have broken down for the Falcons. 

The first falcons player who had a clean shot at the ball was tight end Jaeden Graham (87), who was less than a foot away from the ball as it rolled past the 41-yard line. Remember, the Cowboys aren’t allowed to touch the ball until it gets to the 45-yard line, so the two Cowboys players in the image below are no threat to recover it.

Jaeden Graham probably should have tried to pick up this ball
Fox/NFL GamePass

At this point, Graham needs to jump on the ball. 

Even if you give Graham the benefit of the doubt — maybe he had a blocking assignment on the play —  the problem there is that he didn’t even do that. This is all happening so fast that’s it’s easy to see why a player might revert to what he was taught, but Graham didn’t even touch anyone when he had a shot to block two different Cowboys players. 

The next two Falcons players who had a shot at the ball were Hayden Hurst (81) and Olamide Zaccheaus

Someone in a black uniform should have jumped on this ball. 
Fox/NFL Gamepass

In the image above, the ball is at the 42-yard line, which is notable, because the Cowboys STILL can’t touch it. This point in the kick is where the two worst decisions were made. Instead of moving toward the ball, Hurst started backpedaling toward the sideline. The Falcons tight end didn’t start moving toward the ball until it was near the 45. By then, it was too late, because the guy who recovered the kick (C.J. Goodwin) had a better position and was able to box him out. 

As for Zaccheaus, he backpedaled from the 44 to the 45, which made no sense, because once you get to the 45, you lose your only advantage. Remember, the Cowboys can’t even touch the ball with a FINGER TIP before it gets to the 45 so there would be no reason to move behind that line, which is what Zaccheaus did. 

The player who actually got closest to the ball for the Falcons was Sharrod Neasman (41), who should actually be commended for his effort, because he appeared to be the only one who realized what was going on. On the play, Neasman was lined up near the Cowboys logo, which was nowhere near where the kick ended up going. As soon as he saw where the ball was aimed, he ran straight toward it and tried to jump on it, but he wasn’t able to grab it. 

If you watch the film 200 times, you’ll see that one of two things happens:

1. The Falcons were confused by their assignments because the kick wasn’t a “high-hopper.”
2. The team literally didn’t know the rules and didn’t know they were allowed to recover it before it got to the 45-yard line. 

Either way, this is an indictment on the coaching staff, and Blank clearly didn’t try to hide the fact that this was the coaching staff’s fault, which could put Dan Quinn in some hot water if there are any more blunders by his team over the next few weeks. 

As for the Cowboys, not only did they recover the onside kick, but they quickly moved into field goal range, which allowed Greg Zuerlein to drill a 46-yard game-winner as time expired. You can check out our takeaways from the Cowboys 40-39 win by clicking here

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