When the Falcons return from their Week 11 bye to take on the Saints next Sunday, Desmond Ridder will be under center. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported this morning that Atlanta is turning back to Ridder with the expectation that he will remain the starter for the rest of the season.
Ridder, who started the Falcons’ first eight games of the year, exited the team’s Week 8 loss to the Titans to be evaluated for a concussion. While he quickly cleared the concussion protocol, head coach Arthur Smith said afterwards that he “didn’t think Des was right” and therefore allowed QB2 Taylor Heinicke to finish the game. Smith hoped to convey that Ridder was not kept on the sidelines for performance reasons, though Heinicke was named the Week 9 starter shortly thereafter.
At the time, we heard that the Falcons had not lost faith in Ridder, whom they selected in the third round of the 2022 draft, and were merely looking for a spark. It seems that the plan was always to reassess the situation during the bye week, and that reassessment has led Atlanta back to its second-year passer.
Heinicke suffered a hamstring injury during the club’s loss to the Cardinals last week, which forced Ridder back into the lineup. Rapoport makes it clear, however, that Heinicke’s injury was a low-grade one, so the decision to tap Ridder as the starter moving forward was not made for health reasons.
Although the Falcons are 4-6, they are just one game out of first place in the weak NFC South. And since Smith is in his third year at the helm and has missed the playoffs in each of his first two seasons, his job could be in jeopardy if his club fails to qualify for the postseason in 2023. Even if his seat is not as hot as some recent reports have indicated, he obviously will need to start winning soon to remain in Atlanta for the long haul. The fact that he is handing the keys to Ridder for a Week 12 battle with the division-leading Saints and for the home stretch of the season is something of a testament to his belief in the Cincinnati product.
“Sometimes you need a fresh perspective,” Smith said of Ridder this past week. “That’s what I think helped him. The reset, the refocus and working on things that I thought could help him, he’s done that.”
Ridder has flashed at times in 2023, but he followed up one of his strongest perfomances of the season in a Week 5 win over the Texans with a three-interception showing against the Commanders in Week 6, and he lost three redzone fumbles in the Falcons’ Week 7 win over the Buccaneers. He did play well when pressed into relief duty last week, completing four of six passes for 39 yards and piloting the offense to a touchdown that gave the Falcons a late lead.
For the season, Ridder has completed 65.4% of his passes for six touchdowns against six interceptions (which amounts to a subpar 84.1 quarterback rating, slightly below the mark he posted as a rookie). He has added 32 carries for 150 yards and four rushing scores.