Dec 31, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA;New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) stiff arms Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Saints RB Alvin Kamara out vs. Desmond Ridder-led Falcons

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara is inactive for Sunday’s game against Desmond Ridder and the visiting Atlanta Falcons due to an ankle sprain.

Rookie Kendre Miller and Jamaal Williams will handle the bulk of the workload in place of Kamara, who was deemed as questionable and a game-time decision for Sunday’s game. Kamara did not practice all week after sustaining a sprained ankle last Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Saints (8-8) are in the running for the NFC South title; they must beat Atlanta and have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose to or tie with the Carolina Panthers. The Saints also can qualify as a wild card with some external help.

Kamara has totaled 1,160 yards from scrimmage (694 rushing, 466 receiving) and scored six touchdowns this season across 13 games (12 starts). He has caught 75 passes on 86 targets; his career high for a season is 83 receptions in 2020.

Sunday’s game is Kamara’s first that he has missed due to injury this season. He sat out the first three games while serving a suspension by the NFL due to a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy.

In addition to Kamara, the Saints made the following players inactive: quarterback Jake Haener, wide receiver Keith Kirkwood, linebacker Monty Rice, defensive end Kyle Phillips, safety Lonnie Johnson and offensive lineman Landon Young.

As for Atlanta (7-9), Ridder will get the start in place of injured quarterback Taylor Heinicke (ankle). The latter is inactive and listed as the third quarterback to back up Ridder and Logan Woodside.

Ridder was the Falcons’ quarterback when they defeated the Saints 24-15 on Nov. 26 in Atlanta. He threw for a touchdown and two interceptions, while Bijan Robinson had 91 rushing yards, 32 receiving yards and two scores.

Center Drew Dalman, cornerback Natrone Brooks, defensive end Zach Harrison, safety DeMarcco Hellams and defensive tackle Tommy Togiai are inactive for Atlanta.

–Field Level Media

Nov 26, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons linebacker Bud Dupree (48) and quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) react after defeating the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Arthur Smith: First-place Falcons need more consistency on offense

Through 12 weeks of the NFL season, the Atlanta Falcons are sitting atop the NFC South standings with a road trip against the offensively-challenged New York Jets up next.

Atlanta (5-6, 3-0 NFC South) pulled away from the New Orleans Saints in the fourth quarter to earn a 24-15 victory over its division rival behind a critical drive orchestrated by Desmond Ridder, a rushing attack that piled up a season-high 228 yards and an opportunistic defense headlined by Jessie Bates III.

But Ridder also tossed two interceptions in his first game back as the starting quarterback, and head coach Arthur Smith is wary of his offense’s consistency ahead of Atlanta’s clash with one of the league’s most talented defenses.

“We’re about to go play a really good defense in New York so (the offense) better be ready to go,” Smith said. “They’ve got good players so we’ve got to do it on a consistent level. I thought the offensive line played the best game since I’ve been here (against New Orleans). We’ve invested heavily in those guys and we’ve just got to stick with our way of doing things.”

Ridder now has eight interceptions on the year after New Orleans defensive back Tyrann Mathieu was responsible for both interceptions Sunday. The first pick came at the Saints’ 1-yard line on first-and-goal with 34 seconds to go in the opening half — and the Falcons up 14-9.

“We’ve got to do a better job,” Smith said. “When we gave them the one at the 1, there were a couple of things going on there. But we’ve got to do a better job. When you turn the ball over, it makes life hard on yourselves. Had a chance to double ’em up there or get three before half.”

The second pick came with Atlanta on the move facing a first-and-10 at New Orleans’ 47-yard line when Ridder attempted to hit Van Jefferson on a deep ball down the left sideline.

But after a big hit by Bates forced Taysom Hill to fumble inside the Falcons’ 10-yard line, Ridder put Atlanta up 21-12 by leading his team on a nine-play, 95-yard scoring drive, capped by a 26-yard touchdown reception by Bijan Robinson.

The methodical scoring march, which was sparked by a 29-yard pass to Drake London on third-and-6 with less than 11 minutes to play, proved that Ridder has the makeup to lead his team to wins.

“What you like about him is the way he came back,” Smith said. “He doesn’t flinch. He’s resilient and we’ll keep working.”

Ridder and the Falcons’ offense face a stiff challenge squaring off against a Jets (4-7) defense that ranks right behind Atlanta at 14th in yards allowed per game (323.5) but is 31st in run defense (140.3 yards per game).

–Bates had 12 tackles, a pick-6 and a forced fumble in the win over the Saints. He is tied for third in the league with four interceptions and is second in forced fumbles (three).

–The Falcons are averaging 139.3 yards per game on the ground, good for fifth in the league.

–Field Level Media

Oct 29, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) against the Tennessee Titans during the first half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Arthur Smith explains Falcons’ confidence in Desmond Ridder at QB1

Following the bye week, Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith announced on Monday that Desmond Ridder will be the team’s starting quarterback for the remainder of the season.

Ridder was benched at halftime during Atlanta’s 28-23 loss to Tennessee in Week 8 in favor of Taylor Heinecke primarily due to his struggles with turnovers. He sat out in a home loss to Minnesota, then nearly rallied the Falcons to a comeback win over Arizona after Heinecke left the game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury.

“Des did a lot of good things during his time as a reserve,” Smith said. “In Arizona, you could see how prepared he was. He was confident and clearly wanted the ball in his hands. We had confidence in Des then and we have confidence in him moving forward.”

In nine games (eight starts) this season, Ridder has completed 161 of 246 passes (65.4 percent) for 1,740 yards and six touchdowns. He’s also the Falcons’ third-leading rusher with 150 yards and four scores on the ground.

But the eye-popping stats are the six interceptions and six lost fumbles. Smith hopes that a reboot by spending two games watching from the sideline will help Ridder moving forward.

“We have a lot of confidence in Des,” Smith said. “Over the last couple weeks, he has handled it really well. There were a lot of things going on. I think the time (as a backup) was very beneficial for him.”

Now that he has the QB1 title again, Ridder said he has to “take it and run with it.”

“You get a different perspective of not only yourself but the offense as a whole,” Ridder said of his time as the backup. “Sometimes I feel like, whether it’s a practice or whatever, we lacked energy. So, we’ve got to keep energy up in practice and energy up all throughout the game.”

The Falcons (4-6, 2-0 NFC South) host the division rival New Orleans Saints (5-5, 1-1) Sunday with first place on the line in the NFC South.

The Saints, also off a bye week, lost 27-19 at Minnesota their last time out, but beat the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears prior to that.

Derek Carr, who has passed for 2,231 and 10 touchdowns, left the game with Minnesota after injuring his shoulder and entering concussion protocol. Carr remains in concussion protocol as of Monday, so Jameis Winston could be behind center when the two teams hook up this Thanksgiving weekend.

“He’s still got to go through practice and all that so, no, he’s not ready as of yet,” New Orleans head coach Dennis Allen said when asked about his starting quarterback Monday. “Can’t really comment on it, but he’s in the protocol.”

This week’s meeting will be a reunion for Falcons’ defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, who was the Saints’ defensive line coach for six years before being named Atlanta’s DC.

It will also mark the first time former New Orleans players and current Atlanta standouts Kaden Ellis and David Onyemata get a chance to beat their old team. Ellis is tied for the team lead in tackles with 73, including four for loss, and has two sacks. Onyemata has been a force on the Falcons’ defensive line and is tied with Arnold Ebiketie for the team lead in sacks with 3.5.

Defensively, Atlanta ranks seventh in total yards per game (308.8), 14th in rushing yards per game (108.4), ninth in passing yards per game (200.4) and tied for 17th in points allowed (21.7) in Nielsen’s first season with the team.

–New Orleans standout cornerback Marshon Lattimore (ankle) and wideout Michael Thomas (knee) are dealing with injuries that “are going to take some time” to heal, according to Allen.

–Ridder on the matchup with the Saints: “It’s a huge division game, a huge division opponent. …We need to negate the self-inflicted (issues) that may happen throughout the game.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) runs for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons make Desmond Ridder QB1 for rest of season

The Atlanta Falcons announced Monday that Desmond Ridder has regained the starting quarterback role for this week and the rest of the season.

The move comes amid a hamstring injury to Taylor Heinicke, who started the past two games.

“There was a lot of things going on,” Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said. “Everybody’s got their own stories or you look at the history certain things that have gone on with different players and quarterbacks and things have come up.

“… So there’s a lot going on but I think things, the way they worked out, I think we’re in a good spot and certainly Des is prepared and fired up and ready to go.”

Smith said Logan Woodside would be Ridder’s primary backup this week against visiting New Orleans if Heinicke is unavailable to play. The Falcons had a bye in Week 11.

Ridder started the Falcons’ first eight games before being evaluated for a concussion during a game against the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 29. Heinicke entered that game and started the past two for Atlanta (4-6).

Ridder, 24, has completed 65.4 of his passes for 1,740 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions in nine games this season. He was selected by Atlanta in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Heinicke, 30, completed 55.4 percent of his passes for 498 yards with three touchdowns and one pick in parts of three games this season.

–Field Level Media

Oct 29, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA;Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) looks down field against the Tennessee Titans during the first half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Falcons turn back to Desmond Ridder as QB1

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder is expected to return to the starting role when the team returns from its bye this week, NFL Network reported on Sunday.

Ridder started the Falcons’ first eight games of the season before being evaluated for a concussion during a game against the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 29. Taylor Heinicke entered that game and started the past two for Atlanta (4-6), which returns to face the visiting New Orleans Saints on Nov. 26.

Ridder relieved Heinicke when he sustained a hamstring injury in the second half of the Falcons’ 25-23 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday.

Ridder, 24, has completed 65.4 of his passes for 1,740 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions in nine games this season. He was selected by Atlanta in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Heinicke, 30, completed 55.4 percent of his passes for 498 yards with three touchdowns and one pick in parts of three games this season.

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA;  Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) forces a fumble by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) at the goal line in the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons coach: Ridder’s decision-making ‘pretty good’ despite fumbles

Following an emotional 16-13 road win over Tampa Bay, the Atlanta Falcons find themselves in unfamiliar territory in the NFC South: first place.

Despite three red-zone fumbles by Desmond Ridder, Atlanta’s defense made plays when it had to, and so did its second-year quarterback on the five-play, 42-yard game-winning drive, as the Falcons (4-3, 2-0 NFC South) won on a late field goal by Younghoe Koo for the third time this season.

“I’ll say this about Des: He sat in there and delivered some big-time throws, especially when we needed it late,” head coach Arthur Smith said Monday.

“At the end of the day, we found a way,” Smith added. “Koo, as he continues to do, is clutch. Our guys made big plays at big moments. It’s a resilient group.”

The past two weeks, Ridder has thrown three interceptions and lost three fumbles. But on the bright side, in that span he completed 47 of 72 passes for 557 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 56 yards and a score.

“It’s stuff we have to clean up,” Smith said. “I thought the decision-making in the pocket was pretty good.”

If it weren’t for the three costly turnovers by Ridder, especially two on the goal line, Atlanta would’ve likely cruised to a win over the rival Bucs (3-3, 1-1). The same could be said for the loss against the Washington Commanders in Week 6.

“We certainly know how to make it hard on ourselves,” Smith said.

Ridder has only made 11 starts in the NFL. When the Falcons hit the road to take on the Tennessee Titans (2-4) Sunday, it will be the sixth road start of his career.

The Titans have lost two straight games, but they enter the matchup with the Falcons fresh off a bye week. Veteran quarterback Ryan Tannehill has passed for 1,128 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions. But his status for the Atlanta game is up in the air (high ankle sprain) so the Falcons may see dual-threat Malik Willis or rookie Will Levis behind center.

Derrick Henry leads the Titans in rushing (425 yards, three touchdowns), but rookie Tyjae Spears (5.5 yards per carry) has been impressive as a change-of-pace back.

Veteran DeAndre Hopkins leads the Titans in receptions (27) and yards (376) but has yet to find the end zone this season. Tennessee owns one of the worst offenses in the league, ranked 28th in total offense (283.5 yards per game) and 25th in scoring offense (17.3 points per game).

Despite having four wins, Atlanta is averaging just 16.4 points per game, ranked 29th in the league.

–Smith was informed prior to the game against Tampa Bay that rookie running back Bijan Robinson “wasn’t feeling like himself.” Robinson had just one carry for three yards. He leads the Falcons in rushing (404 yards) and is fourth on the team in receiving (26 catches for 189 yards and two scores).

–Undrafted free agent linebacker Nate Landman had a team-high 12 tackles and forced a fumble against the Bucs. It was the second straight game he led the team in tackles.

–Field Level Media

Oct 1, 2023; London, United Kingdom; Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Josh Allen (41) pressures Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) during the second half of an NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons coach: Sticking with Desmond Ridder; offense needs faster starts

For the second consecutive week, Atlanta’s offense struggled to find the end zone.

In the Falcons’ 23-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in London, Arthur Smith’s team could only muster one touchdown in 57 plays despite getting 17 first downs and controlling the ball for a shade over 27 minutes.

Much of the blame for Atlanta’s struggles could be pinned on quarterback Desmond Ridder, who threw a pick-6 and was sacked four times in the loss to the Jaguars (2-2). But in Monday’s press conference, Smith said the Falcons’ (2-2) offense has to find a rhythm earlier in games after scoring just three first-half points the last two weeks.

“We’ve got to find a way to start faster,” Smith said. “There’s different things we’ve looked at schematically in what you’re calling, and what you’re doing differently, so we have to get that solved so we’re not in a 10-nothing hole.”

In addition to a quicker start, Smith reiterated that there will not be a quarterback change as Atlanta gears up for a home game with the surging Houston Texans (2-2) on Sunday afternoon.

“Obviously, I wouldn’t be sitting, pontificating about what went on in the game if we were making a change,” Smith said.

Ridder threw two interceptions and passed for just 73 yards in the first half against Jacksonville. But his play in the second half (completed 10 of 17 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown) showed Smith how his second-year quarterback could handle adversity.

“That’s what you had to find out,” Smith said. “You go into a game like that and those things happen in the first half, you got to find out: sink or swim. To his credit, he came out firing. There wasn’t hesitancy. I don’t care what position you play — in any high-performance job, high-pressure job — you start to get hesitant, bad deal. So, you found out after some real adversity what he was about.”

In the upcoming game against the Texans, Ridder and the rest of his teammates will have to perform well to avoid a three-game losing streak.

Houston has beaten Jacksonville (37-17) and Pittsburgh (30-6) in consecutive weeks and is led by dynamic rookies C.J. Stroud, Will Anderson Jr. and Henry To’oTo’o.

Stroud is currently fourth in the NFL in passing yards (1,212) and has thrown six touchdowns without an interception. In Week 4’s win over the Steelers, he completed 16 of 30 passes for 306 yards and two TDs.

To’oTo’o leads Houston in tackles (27) and has been a force at linebacker. Defensive end and former Alabama teammate Anderson has 15 tackles and a sack for a Texans defense that’s ranked 11th in the league in scoring (19.8 points per game).

Atlanta’s defense enters this week’s game ranked 10th in scoring defense (19.3 ppg), seventh in total defense (290.8 yards per game) and fifth in pass defense (176.2 ypg).

–Falcons safety Jessie Bates III is currently tied for the NFL lead with three interceptions. He leads Atlanta in tackles (32) and forced fumbles (two).

–Cordarrelle Patterson suited up for the first time this season against Jacksonville but played sparingly. Patterson, who is playing the “Joker” role in Atlanta’s offense, could be primed for more playing time against Houston.

–Field Level Media

Jan 8, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (4) throws a pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Arthur Smith: Desmond Ridder is Falcons QB1

What seemed to be implied and assumed in Atlanta has now been stated out loud and made official by Falcons head coach Arthur Smith — Desmond Ridder is the team’s QB1.

“The plan is to start Desmond,” Smith said Tuesday. “That’s our plan going forward right now.”

Smith made the proclamation from the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix.

The Falcons signed Taylor Heinicke to a two-year, $20 million deal earlier this month, but even he knew what his role would be — QB2.

“We’re very excited to have Taylor in the room, a guy with experience who has won games in this league,” Smith said. “The chemistry in the quarterback room is important, as we expect Desmond to take the next step. But we also have a guy who can go in and win you football games and be ready to play.”

Ridder, 23, went 2-2 as a rookie starter in 2022, taking over for Marcus Mariota, who opened the season as the starter. Ridder completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 708 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions after being selected in the third round of the 2022 draft out of Cincinnati.

“I thought he made significant improvement from each start,” Smith said. “We expect him to make another leap this offseason. There are always things you can work on, with lower body mechanics. He can get more comfortable – when you don’t change systems that helps, too. We expect significant growth from him.”

Heinicke, 29, started 24 games over the past two seasons and posted a 12-11-1 record as the replacement for Ryan Fitzpatrick and Carson Wentz in Washington.

The Falcons also have quarterbacks Logan Woodside and Feleipe Franks on the roster.

–Field Level Media

Aug 27, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (4) throws a pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Falcons rookie QB Desmond Ridder to start in Week 15

Rookie Desmond Ridder is the starting quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons when the team returns from their bye week, NFL Network reported on Thursday.

Per the report, Ridder will usurp Marcus Mariota and be under center for the Falcons at New Orleans in Week 15. The 23-year-old Ridder has yet to play a snap in the regular season. He was selected by the Falcons in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft out of Cincinnati.

A dual-threat quarterback, Ridder tossed a school-record 87 touchdown passes during his four seasons with the Bearcats. His 44 wins at Cincinnati are the third-most in college football history.

He guided the Bearcats to a 13-1 record in 2021, passing for 3,334 yards, 30 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Ridder was named the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2020 and 2021.

The Falcons (5-8) lost four of their last five games to fall behind the NFC South-leading Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6).

Atlanta coach Arthur Smith told reporters that “every job is open” on Monday, one day after the Falcons dropped a 19-16 decision to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Mariota, 29, has completed just 61.3 percent of his passes for 2,219 yards with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions while making all 13 starts this season. His 15 TDs rank 16th in the NFL. He is tied for fifth (most) in the NFL with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Minnesota Vikings’ Kirk Cousins with nine interceptions.

Mariota garnered criticism for missing open receivers in the loss to the Steelers. His interception on the Falcons’ final drive sealed the victory for Pittsburgh.

The Falcons have struggled mightily in the passing game this season. Per STATS, the Falcons rank 27th in the NFL in “big pass plays” (25-plus-yard pass plays) and 31st in pass attempts this season.

–Field Level Media

Jun 9, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (4) gets a drink during OTA at Falcons Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons QB Desmond Ridder agrees to 4-year rookie deal

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder agreed to his four-year rookie deal, multiple outlets reported on Tuesday.

The third-round draft pick’s contract is worth a reported $5.362 million and includes a $1.08 million signing bonus.

Ridder, 22, reached an agreement in time to report with the other Atlanta rookies for training camp on Tuesday.

Ridder guided Cincinnati to a 13-1 record in 2021, passing for 3,334 yards, 30 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

With longtime starter Matt Ryan now in Indianapolis, Ridder enters camp at No. 2 on the Falcons’ QB depth chart behind veteran Marcus Mariota.

–Field Level Media