A few weeks ago, the Falcons vs. Titans looked like it could be a snooze fest between two struggling offenses led by Desmond Ridder and Ryan Tannehill. However, fans were in for a pleasant treat in what turned out to be one of the more exciting matchups of Week 8 thanks to two backup quarterbacks.
Will Levis made his NFL debut due to Tannehill dealing with an injury, and the Titans may never go back to the veteran. Levis had one of the most impressive first NFL starts of all time, tossing four touchdown passes and making next to no mistakes against a Falcons defense that entered Sunday as one of the best in the NFL.
On the other side, the Falcons floundered offensively. Desmond Ridder was a respectable 8-for-12 passing but he had yet another costly fumble in the first half and was sacked five times. That’s when Arthur Smith decided to turn to Taylor Heinicke in the second half, and with the change, the Falcons offense came to life.
Atlanta scored on four of their six possessions in the second half (two field goals and two touchdowns), and it might have been even better if Van Jefferson hadn’t dropped an easy completion on fourth-and-one on the team’s final possession.
Heinicke was getting the ball out on time and hitting his receivers down field. It neutralized the Titans pass rush and opened up the running game. It looked like an entirely different offense with him on the field, and the Falcons had a chance to win at the end of the game, which didn’t seem like it would have been possible with Ridder under center.
Heinicke finished the game 12-of-21 passing fo 175 yards and a touchdown. He also made a couple of critical scrambles with his feet, avoiding the pass rush and extending drives. However, Arthur Smith still was non-committal about Heinicke remaining the starting quarterback for the Falcons Week 9 tilt against the Vikings, citing the decision to bench Ridder was not performance based.
— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@DOrlandoAJC) October 29, 2023
After being sacked five times in the first half, Desmond Ridder underwent tests for a concussion at half-time. However, he was cleared to play. But as we’ve seen several times this season with other players, the Falcons thought it was best to play it safe and keep him out for the rest of the game.
Unfortunately for Smith, that decision has now opened up Pandora’s box.
Desmond Ridder has undoubtedly shown some improvements as a passer over the last several weeks. However, he still very much looks like a rookie when it comes to turnovers and taking sacks. He has seven turnovers over his last ten quarters played, and his progressions are much slower than they need to be to find consistent success at the NFL level. That’s not going to fix itself overnight, and it’s now overwhelmingly evident that Heinicke is the better option when it comes to winning games right now.
The problem is turning away from Ridder would essentially be waiving the white flag on his career in Atlanta. The Falcons, agree with it or not, feel like he has the potential to be a starting quarterback in this league. Ridder has done a lot of good things as a passer over the last several weeks, but some of his mistakes have proven too difficult for the team to overcome. The Falcons now have to balance what’s more important — winning now or grooming a young quarterback in hopes he can be the team’s starting quarterback of the future.
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