ATLANTA — Dan Quinn and Sean McDermott were filled with nostalgia this week as they remembered their time together on a William & Mary team that was a launching pad for NFL coaches.
Quinn’s Atlanta Falcons will face McDermott’s Buffalo Bills today. The two were frequent NFC South opponents the last two years when McDermott was the Carolina Panthers’ defensive coordinator, and McDermott now is in his first season as the Bills’ coach.
Each spotted leadership qualities in the other when Quinn was the defensive line coach in his first college coaching job for William & Mary in 1994 and McDermott was a sophomore safety. Another member of the team was current Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who was a senior wide receiver.
“It just so happened there were two guys who were going to be seen as fantastic leaders on their college teams,” Quinn said Wednesday.
Quinn said he formed a “really good bond” with the players, including McDermott, because they were so close in age. He said he has remained close with McDermott as each moved up through college and the NFL as defensive coaches.
“The defenses in which he’s been involved were always hard-nosed and really good,” Quinn said. “Now, you can see that coming through to the entire team. That’s not easy to do, but that’s now his personality coming through to the team.”
McDermott said Quinn “was one of those coaches that just had it.”
“He had a great way with players,” McDermott said. “Having that great way with players, he still had a tough-minded approach to the game, which being a defensive player and then defensive coach, and head coach now, I really appreciated. He was close enough with the players, but not too close in terms of the relationships he was able to form. He had something, even then when I was in college, and it’s been fun to watch his career.”
McDermott has made an early impact in Buffalo. The Bills (2-1) have allowed only two touchdowns, matching the franchise low through three games from 1981, ’82 and ’83.
The Falcons (3-0) should be a good test for Buffalo’s surprising defense. Atlanta led the NFL in scoring in 2016 and, led by quarterback Matt Ryan, has scored 30 or more points in two straight wins over Green Bay and Detroit.
Here are some things to watch when Buffalo tries to give Atlanta its first loss:
• ANTHEM UPDATE: Quinn said Wednesday the Falcons will lock arms as they stand during the national anthem, and no players are expected to kneel. Defensive tackles Dontari Poe and Grady Jarrett knelt during last week’s anthem in Detroit. Quinn said that was a “one-off for us” and he wants solidarity this week.
Bills running back LeSean McCoy sat on the field and stretched during the anthem last week, drawing criticism from former Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly.
• BILLS AIM FOR 3-1: Buffalo is looking for its first 3-1 start since 2011. A win would make McDermott the first Buffalo coach to win three of his first four games since Kay Stephenson in 1983.
• INDOOR FOOTBALL: The retractable roof on Atlanta’s new $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be closed. It was open for the Falcons’ first regular-season home game against the Packers two weeks ago.
• RUNNING TO WIN: The Bills were held to 75 yards rushing in last week’s 26-16 win over Denver. Before the win, Buffalo had lost nine straight when not running for more than 75 yards.
Two weeks ago, the Bills had only 69 yards rushing in a 9-3 loss to Carolina. The totals are scary for a team which doesn’t want to put too much pressure on quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
Since Taylor took over as the starter in 2015, the Bills are 1-10 when he attempts 30 or more passes. When Taylor throws 29 or fewer passes, the Bills are 16-5.
Taylor is 16-5 when attempting 29 or fewer passes.
• INJURY UPDATE: Atlanta starters who could miss the game with injuries include: safety Ricardo Allen (concussion), linebacker Vic Beasley (hamstring), right tackle Ryan Schraeder (concussion) and defensive end Courtney Upshaw (ankle, knee). Wide receiver Julio Jones has been limited in practice with a lower back injury but is expected to play.
Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (right foot), tackle Cordy Glenn (foot, ankle) and McCoy (wrist) are among the key names on Buffalo’s injury list. McCoy had full participation on Wednesday.