SANTA CLARA – The Atlanta Falcons went 8-8 in Dan Quinn’s first season as head coach.
But he felt something was missing, in addition to the necessary number of victories to qualify for the NFC playoffs.
“I’d say, honestly, we were a neighborhood and now we’re a brotherhood,” Quinn said Wednesday in a conference call with Bay Area reporters.
“I was so wanting that connection to happen as a team. Most of the good teams I’ve been a part of had this really close connection. Last year, we never got to that spot.”
Quinn spent his first two NFL seasons on Steve Mariucci’s staff with the 49ers as quality control coach in 2001 and ‘02. Dennis Erickson retained Quinn as defensive line coach for two seasons.
“This offseason we worked hard at that to make sure the players had an accountability to one another,” Quinn said. “That started for me way back, from my first time with the Niners and having Bill (Walsh) and Mooch talk about the 49er way, and the standard of doing things.”
The Falcons (8-5) are tied atop the NFC South standings with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with three games remaining. Atlanta can take another step closer to the playoffs on Sunday against the 49ers (1-12) at the Georgia Dome.
Quinn, who interviewed for the 49ers’ head-coaching vacancy in January 2015 to replace Jim Harbaugh, said his vision for building a franchise was also greatly influenced by his time on Pete Carroll’s staff with the Seattle Seahawks, where he served as defensive coordinator.
“It left such an impression on me when I got to Seattle, Pete had that way,” Quinn said. “He didn’t call it the 49er way, but it was a real standard of how we wanted to do things and making that place feel special. And that’s what I wanted to create here.
“I never wanted to make it Seattle East or another Niner spot. I wanted it to be our team and all the things that could make us tough as hell, physical. I wanted that connection as a team to take place.”
Quinn took a week off from the typical offseason workout program to take participate in a program with Acumen Performance Group, a company started by a group of retired Navy SEALs. The idea was to help build team unity and chemistry while overcoming various physical and mental challenges. The training took place at the Falcons' practice facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia. (An earlier version of this article incorrect stated the training was in San Diego.)
On Dec. 4, the Falcons experienced one of the worst losses in the NFL when a two-point conversion attempt was intercepted and returned for two points the other way to lift the Kansas City Chiefs to an improbable victory.
Last week, the Falcons bounced back with a 42-14 victory at the Los Angeles Rams.
“We’re quite a bit different than last year,” Quinn said. “We’ve added players, but we’re different in our mindset. We’re more resilient. I’d say we’ve gone through some of the difficult ones you go through, losses and those things, and you better grow from them or they’re going to eat at you.”