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’ Alvin Kamara (ankle) game-time decision vs. Falcons

The New Orleans Saints listed running back Alvin Kamara as questionable for the regular-season finale against the Atlanta Falcons, with coach Dennis Allen calling his availability a game-time decision.

Kamara did not practice all week after suffering a sprained ankle last Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“He’s one of those guys that is so valuable to our team that we’re going to go all the way up to game time to see where he’s at,” Allen said of the five-time Pro Bowl selection. “He’s made improvement throughout the week and we’ll just wait until game time to make a decision on that.”

The Saints are in the running for the NFC South title; they must beat Atlanta and have Tampa Bay lose to or tie with Carolina. The Saints can also make it 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.

New Orleans ruled out tackle Landon Young (knee) and safety Lonnie Johnson (knee) against Atlanta. Joining Kamara as questionable are running back Kendre Miller (ankle, illness), wide receiver A.T. Perry (illness), tight end Juwan Johnson (chest), defensive end Payton Turner (toe), defensive tackle Khalen Saunders (concussion) and safety J.T. Gray (illness).

The Falcons have deemed quarterback Taylor Heinicke questionable due to an ankle injury. He was limited each day in practice, and Desmond Ridder would start if Heinicke cannot.

Cornerback Mike Hughes (concussion) and defensive end Zach Harrison (knee) are also questionable, while center Drew Dalman (ankle), linebacker Troy Andersen (pectoral) and safety DeMarcco Hellams (concussion) were ruled out.

–Field Level Media

Dec 31, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) drops back to pass against the Chicago Bears during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Taylor Heinicke hurting, Falcons cling to fragile playoff hopes

With one week remaining in the regular season, the Atlanta Falcons are down to a wing and a prayer when it comes to miniscule hopes for the playoffs.

And in what has become a recurring theme, the Falcons may need to switch quarterbacks when they visit the New Orleans Saints in Week 18.

The Falcons (7-9) suffered a 37-17 loss at the Chicago Bears on New Year’s Eve to fall into third place in the NFC South. Late in the game, starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke injured his left ankle and was replaced by Desmond Ridder.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith told reporters Monday that the team should “have a good idea by Friday” whether Heinicke will be able to play in the critical game at New Orleans.

“Obviously, he’s going to do everything he can to play,” Smith said of Heinicke. “We’ll have to monitor that. … I know Taylor. He’s going to put everything he can into trying to go.”

Ridder and Heinicke have swapped spots on the depth chart three times this season due to both injury and ineffectiveness. Heinicke is the more experienced of the two, but he tossed three interceptions and just one touchdown on 10-of-29 passing Sunday against the Bears.

Ridder completed three passes and threw one pick in relief of Heinicke. He has been turnover-prone all season, with 11 interceptions and six lost fumbles.

Heinicke hurt his ankle in a Week 16 win over the Indianapolis Colts and was limited in practice throughout last week, meaning Ridder took plenty of reps in his place.

Smith, who has faced questions about his job security toward the end of his third season in Atlanta, has been dealt plenty of adversity at the most important position in football.

“It’s like a lot of things in life. What you can control and how you react to things and having plans is part of your job,” Smith said. “Obviously what you’re doing at that position, that’s why you always got to make sure everybody’s ready to go, because it’s real.”

With that in mind, the Falcons turn to their final division game of the season. They have only one path to reach the playoffs following Week 17 results.

Only if the Falcons beat the Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose to the cellar-dwelling Carolina Panthers could Atlanta sneak into the postseason. In that scenario, a three-way tie atop the division at 8-9 favors Atlanta. The Falcons have the tiebreaker by virtue of having the best head-to-head record against the other two clubs (3-1).

The Saints (8-8) have won three of their last four games, including a big 23-13 win at Tampa Bay last Sunday to keep their division hopes alive. Derek Carr threw for 197 yards and two touchdowns on 24-of-32 passing.

Ridder was the Falcons’ quarterback when they beat 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 in that one.

“Any time we play New Orleans, it’s a big deal,” Smith said. “Certainly this game’s got a lot on the line. I know that some of it’s out of our control, but again, that’s our own doing, right? To not control your own (destiny). But we gotta get ready to go and put everything we got and go beat New Orleans.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) throws against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons backup QB Taylor Heinicke to start over Desmond Ridder

Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder is headed back to the bench, with backup Taylor Heinicke bumped up to the starting role for Sunday’s game with the Indianapolis Colts in Atlanta.

Ridder has 21 turnovers this season and the Falcons lost two games in an eight-day span to plummet from first place in the NFC South. His interception on a potential game-winning drive last Sunday at Carolina was a critical mistake head coach Arthur Smith couldn’t overlook.

Smith hinted at making another change Monday, noting he didn’t want to be in a situation to flip-flop quarterbacks this late in the season.

“That’s usually not a great situation to have,” Smith said. “You want to be fair and objective and obviously give people an opportunity. It was a belief in him, no matter what happens. It doesn’t mean anybody’s career is over, but we have to do what’s best for this team right now.”

Big-picture questions remain unanswered, such as whether benching Ridder for the second time in seven weeks spells the end of the 2022 third-round pick’s tenure with the Falcons.

But in the short term and despite having lost two straight to division rivals Tampa Bay and Carolina, Atlanta is very much alive for the postseason. The Falcons are one game behind the Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints in the South.

The Falcons (6-8) are also just one game back in the wild-card chase entering Sunday’s regular-season home finale against the Colts (8-6) before road trips to Chicago and New Orleans to close out the season.

“We had a great opportunity and unfortunately, we’ve lost two games in eight days,” Smith said. “And that’s on us. It’s not anyone’s fault but our own. But there’s still life out there and we have to rally and prepare against a really good Indianapolis team coming in here.”

Ridder was 12-of-20 passing for 152 yards, a touchdown and an interception against the Panthers. On the season, he has passed for 2,528 yards and 10 touchdowns. Ridder has also rushed for a team-high five touchdowns. But he’s thrown 10 interceptions, fumbled 11 times and committed five turnovers inside the red zone.

Heinicke started in a 31-28 loss to Minnesota in Week 9 and completed 21 of 38 passes for 268 yards with one touchdown and an interception. He also started in the 25-23 loss to Arizona in Week 10 and completed 8 of 15 passes for 55 yards and a score before being replaced by Ridder in the fourth quarter following a hamstring injury.

–Field Level Media

Dec 17, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA;  Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) looks to pass in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons coach still weighing QB options for Week 16

Atlanta Falcons coach Arthur Smith is still checking his list to find out which quarterback will start on Christmas Eve.

Smith told reporters Monday that either Desmond Ridder or Taylor Heinicke will be under center when the Falcons (6-8) host the Indianapolis Colts (8-6) on Sunday. He said the team will not bring in another quarterback and won’t start third-stringer Logan Woodside.

“Not final, but obviously still working through that,” Smith said. “Just met with the quarterbacks a minute ago before coming in here, and I’ll circle back with those guys because there’s some stuff we need to still work through.”

The Falcons suffered a 9-7 loss at lowly Carolina on Sunday for their second straight defeat, dropping them a game behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.

Ridder completed 12 of 20 passes for 152 yards with a touchdown and an interception against the Panthers. The second-year signal-caller is 6-6 as the starter, completing 63.3 percent of his throws for 2,528 yards with 10 TDs and 10 picks.

Heinicke played in three games (0-2 as a starter) when Ridder was in concussion protocol. He has completed 55.4 percent of his passes for 498 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

–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

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

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

Nov 12, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) throws against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons encounter QB questions once more as Taylor Heinicke hurt

The Atlanta Falcons will be facing quarterback questions yet again after Taylor Heinicke exited Sunday’s 25-23 loss to the host Arizona Cardinals with a hamstring injury.

Heinicke was just 8-of-15 passing for 55 yards and a touchdown before the injury early in the fourth quarter. He was hurt when he scrambled for an 8-yard gain and was hit by Zaven Collins.

Desmond Ridder, who began the season as Atlanta’s starter, entered and guided the Falcons on a touchdown drive on their next possession. Ridder scored with his legs from 9 yards out, but his two-point conversion pass failed, making it 23-22.

The Cardinals then drove 70 yards in 11 plays for the game-winning field goal as time expired.

There was no update on Heinicke’s injury immediately after the game. Atlanta (4-6) enters its bye week on a three-game losing streak.

It was Heinicke’s second start since being given the job earlier this month. Ridder, before Sunday, had thrown for 1,701 yards with six touchdowns, six interceptions and seven fumbles this season.

“That’s not really my decision,” Ridder said when asked whether he may regain the starting role. “My job is to go in and be Taylor’s backup and do what I can, and I think I did my job in that regard.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 5, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) throws a pass against the Minnesota Vikings in the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons’ Taylor Heinicke hangs on to QB1 job for now

The Atlanta Falcons will start Taylor Heinicke at quarterback for the second straight week this Sunday at Arizona.

Replacing the benched Desmond Ridder, Heinicke was 21-for-38 passing for 268 yards with one touchdown and one interception in Sunday’s 31-28 home loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

Head coach Arthur Smith confirmed Monday that Heinicke will be back under center when the Falcons (4-5) visit the Cardinals (1-8). Atlanta has a bye week after that.

“We will go with Taylor this week,” Smith said. “And reassess going into the bye.”

Smith said he doesn’t plan to rotate quarterbacks or use a two-QB system but instead will use the bye in Week 11 to determine a course for the rest of the season.

Atlanta scored a season-high 28 points in the loss to Minnesota but lost for the third time in four games.

Heinicke, 30, has completed 55.9 percent of his passes for 443 yards, two TDs and a pick in two games (one start).

Ridder, 24, has completed 65.4 percent of his throws for 1,701 yards, six TDs and six interceptions in eight starts. He’s also fumbled seven times.

–Field Level Media

Oct 29, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA;  Atlanta Falcons quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) calls the play against the Tennessee Titans during the second at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons bench QB Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke to start

Desmond Ridder was benched in favor of backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who will start for the Atlanta Falcons against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

“Just for this week,” Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said on Wednesday. “With all the variables, best for this week with Minnesota, Taylor will be playing this week.”

Ridder is healthy and available and is Atlanta’s No. 2 quarterback.

“He is cleared and available,” Smith said.

Ridder was benched in the second half last week and replaced by Heinicke in a 28-23 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Heinicke completed 12 of his 21 passes 175 yards and a touchdown.

The 30-year-old Heinicke signed as an unrestricted free agent in March. He has 25 career starts in 34 games with the Washington Commanders, Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans.

Ridder was evaluated for a concussion and cleared of a head injury, but he did not play in the second half. He was sacked five times and lost a fumble in the first half.

Rookie Jaren Hall is expected to start for the Vikings with Kirk Cousins out for the season. Cousins sustained a season-ending Achilles injury last week.

A third-round pick in 2022, Ridder has been the starter for the Falcons since Week 14 last season, when he replaced Marcus Mariota.

He is 6-6 as a starter but has 13 turnovers this season, including seven lost fumbles.

–Field Level Media

Oct 29, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) stands in the pocket against the Tennessee Titans during the second half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Arthur Smith: Falcons’ QB decision to come Wednesday

Following the Atlanta Falcons’ 28-23 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, all eyes are on the quarterback position with a home game against the Minnesota Vikings on deck.

Desmond Ridder was evaluated for a concussion and the team said he was cleared of a head injury, but he did not play in the second half and was replaced in the lineup by Taylor Heinicke.

Head coach Arthur Smith did not give a definitive answer when asked Monday who his starting quarterback would be against Minnesota.

“I gotta see where he (Ridder) is at,” Smith said. “That’s the best I can give you, but I gotta see where he’s at and see if that’s the best thing for this team this week. Obviously, it’s not something I’m concerned with long term. He’s done a lot of good things, but we have to find a way to go win this game. If it’s Taylor, that’s what we’ll do, but my concern is Des.”

Ridder played the first half against the Titans and completed 8 of 12 passes for 71 yards and ran for 26 yards. But he was sacked five times and lost a fumble when he was hit by defensive end Jeffery Simmons midway through the second quarter, which led to a Tennessee touchdown and a 14-3 lead.

After Atlanta totaled just 89 yards in the first half, Heinicke completed 12 of 21 passes for 175 yards and a score and guided the Falcons (4-4) to points on four of his first five possessions in the second half.

Facing continuous questions about the quarterback position, Smith said he would give an answer on who will be the starter by Wednesday.

“We’ll use the next 24 hours to evaluate,” Smith said. “We’ll obviously listen to the medical experts first and evaluate in the short term what’s best thing for Des, what’s best thing for this team. … I’m not going to sit here and play games because whoever is going to play this week to try and beat Minnesota is going to get the reps.”

The Vikings have won three in a row and four of their last five games, but they will arrive in Atlanta without star quarterback Kirk Cousins, who tore his right Achilles in Sunday’s 24-10 win over Green Bay and is out for the year.

With Cousins out, Minnesota (4-4) will likely turn to rookie Jaren Hall, with veteran Nick Mullens still on injured reserve and eligible to be activated ahead of Week 10. Hall replaced Cousins and completed 3 of 4 passes for 23 yards against the Packers.

A major bright spot for the Vikings has been the play of rookie receiver Jordan Addison. Through eight games, Addison has 36 receptions for 482 yards and seven touchdowns, which ranks second to only the Miami Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill (eight TDs receiving) for tops in the league. Addison has been a welcome addition since star wideout Justin Jefferson went on IR early this month with a hamstring injury.

–Atlanta defensive lineman Grady Jarrett tore his ACL in the loss to the Titans and is out for the year. The two-time Pro Bowler has been one of the NFL’s best interior linemen and had 1.5 sacks, eight quarterback hits, two passes defended and 23 combined tackles (two for a loss) in eight starts this season.

“Hate it for Grady,” Smith said.

–Fullback Keith Smith (concussion) and wideout Drake London (groin) left Sunday’s game against the Titans.

“Guys with concussions will have to go through the protocols,” Smith said. “On Drake, don’t have an official timeline, but it wasn’t as bad as we thought, so there is some positive news there.”

–Field Level Media