Falcons switch to Desmond Ridder over Marcus Mariota is “performance-based”

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The Falcons are officially turning the page on the Marcus Mariota chapter toward the Desmond Ridder era with four games left to play. Despite reports on the quarterback switch surfacing last week, the team was on a bye, and Monday was the first time we’ve seen Arthur Smith, who told members of the media that it was a “performance-based” decision to turn to the rookie over the veteran.

“We’re going to make a switch at quarterback,” Smith said. “Desmond Ridder will be the starter… It’s a performance-based decision. … We talked last time about getting over the hump in some of these close games and where we try to push the offense. We feel like it’s the best decision with where he’s at the team’s at as we prepare to go down to New Orleans.”

In what is likely his final game with the Falcons, Mariota posted a stat line of 167 yards, one touchdown, and one interception on 54.2% passing. He was inaccurate for much of the afternoon against the Steelers, and his very last play embodied the entire season — a game-sealing interception. After Mariota’s poor performance, Smith left the door open to a quarterback change as the team fell further and further out of playoff contention. And now, it’s official.

In 13 starts, Mariota has thrown for 2,219 yards, 15 touchdowns, and nine interceptions on 61.33% passing. The former Heisman Trophy winner also added another 438 yards and four scores on the ground for a total of 2,657 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 12 turnovers. There were also several losses that could be directly contributed to Mariota’s struggles — i.e., against the Saints in the season opener.

The choice of words is especially interesting to me. Arthur Smith purposefully stated it was a performance-based decision but eluded earlier in the season that Mariota would be the starter until the Falcons were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. Smith added that the veteran would likely hit the injured reserve due to a chronic knee injury. It’s just all very peculiar timing that the Steelers matchup was the final straw for Arthur Smith, and it was the game that landed Mariota on the IR and had nothing to do with the quarterback change. I digress, though.

It’s been fairly evident for much of the season Mariota was holding this team back, even if their ceiling wasn’t very high to begin with. Desmond Ridder gives the offense more of a home run threat, but nobody should be surprised when he inevitably struggles, resulting in the same criticism his predecessor faced. The position change is a move to groom the rookie for next season, where he will be the assumed starter and have his first real audition to be the team’s franchise quarterback. The Falcons still have a few games left, but sweeping judgments shouldn’t be made on the Cincinnati product in 2022. More than likely, it won’t net better results than Marcus Mariota. It’s just the beginning of trying to find a long-term solution.

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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