Nov 12, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, USA;  Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) hands off to running back Bijan Robinson (7) in the second half] at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

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Smith: ‘Premature’ to commit to Falcons’ QB entering bye week

The Atlanta Falcons enter their bye week mired in a three-game losing streak and facing critical questions ahead of their closing seven-game stretch to the regular season.

At 4-6, they are still only a game behind New Orleans in the NFC South, so the playoffs remain a distinct possibility. But to make a run at the postseason, Atlanta must first address what has led to six losses in the past eight games.

The biggest question is what to do at quarterback.

Taylor Heinicke has started the past two games after relieving Desmond Ridder during a Week 8 loss at Tennessee. He has managed the offense adequately, but has thrown only two touchdowns against one interception the past two weeks — both games the Falcons led before ultimately losing in the final minute.

Heinicke was replaced by Ridder in the second half of Sunday’s loss at Arizona after suffering a hamstring injury. It’s a “low grade” strain, meaning Heinicke will likely be available after the bye week, but coach Arthur Smith was in no hurry to commit to his starting quarterback for a critical Week 12 home game against New Orleans.

“We’re at the bye week, so we’ll take some time, step back and look at everything. A little premature,” Smith said Monday when asked about the quarterback situation. “Obviously, both of those guys have done some good things and other things that we have to assess and see where we’re at. At the start of next week, we’ll come back in, get a bonus day on Monday, and we’ll go from there.

“Just got to take a step back and look at it and make sure we’re doing what’s best for the team.”

The Falcons also close the season at New Orleans, and none of their seven remaining opponents currently has a winning record.

That’s the cup-half-full side of the equation. The other side is the reality that Atlanta has lost to Washington, Tennessee, Minnesota and Arizona in the past five weeks — teams with a combined 15-24 record.

Smith could return to Ridder, who started the first eight games. The second-year quarterback has thrown six touchdowns and six interceptions as part of his 84.1 passer rating, but he did run of a 9-yard touchdown with 2:33 remaining on Sunday to put Atlanta up 23-22.

“There are things that I think he’s done really well as a young player,” Smith said when asked how the time on the bench may have benefited Ridder. “Sometimes you need a fresh perspective. That’s what I think helped him. And I think you saw when he got in there. I saw his confidence and I saw a guy that’s the reason we love him and wanted him here coming out.

“The guy wants the ball in his hands in critical moments. He has done a lot of good. But the reset, the re-focus and working on things that I thought could help him, and he’s done that.”

The Falcons are now 18-26 under Smith, who went 7-10 in each of his first two seasons in Atlanta. They’re heading toward a similar record if they’re unable to make significant improvement coming out of the bye.

While the ground game has been effective, including 95 yards by rookie Bijan Robinson on Sunday, the passing game mustered only 70 yards against the Cardinals, who entered the game with one victory on the season.

Smith said he doesn’t plan to make any changes to his staff, and is aware that many frustrated fans are calling for him to be fired.

“You embrace it — the good, the bad, the pressure,” Smith said. “The good news is we’re not dead.”

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.

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