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.”