For the first time in years, I woke up on Sunday genuinely excited for a Falcons football game. This team has been stuck in the mud since 2017, which can be seen by the fact that they haven’t been over .500 in the last five seasons!
The Falcons are now assured of a fifth straight sub-.500 season.
They have never been above .500 at any point over the last five seasons.
— Mike Conti (@MikeConti929) December 18, 2022
Atlanta put off the rebuild for far too long, and it wasn’t until the new regime arrived that they finally decided to tear it all down and build from the ground up. Falcons fans have watched Julio Jones and Matt Ryan — two of the greatest players in franchise history — depart in back-to-back years, but in reality, it probably should have happened earlier than that.
Terry Fontenot and company have stripped this roster bare, which can be seen by their dead cap figure that is north of $80 million. Despite that, the Falcons have managed to remain competitive in nearly every contest, and they even had a legitimate chance to win the division entering Sunday (even if that’s mostly because the NFC South has plummeted into the abyss). There are aspects of this team that make me believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
The Falcons have a dominant run game, featuring a creative play caller in Arthur Smith, a stable of impressive running backs, and a much improved offensive line. The culture has changed since Dan Quinn was relieved of his duties, but none of that matters without a quarterback, which is what made yesterday so intriguing. We got our first chance to see if third-round pick Desmond Ridder could be the answer to the Falcons biggest question mark.
So how did he do?
In short, not great. Ridder came out of the gate with the jitters. He was overthrowing deep balls, quick to pull the ball down to scramble, and nearly threw an unacceptable pick six… And that was only in the first 30 minutes.
Ridder finished the day 13/26 passing for 97 yards. Not the most glamorous stat line, but somehow, the Falcons found themselves with a chance to win at the end of the game, and when it mattered most, Ridder showed the poise that everyone raved about when he was coming out of college.
Down three with just over six minutes to go, the Falcons started a drive at their own 10-yard line. Atlanta continued to lean on Tyler Allgeier, who had a career day, finishing the game with 139 yards on 17 carries, but Ridder had a couple of nice completions to put the Falcons in a position to win. Unfortunately, Drake London‘s inability to hold onto the ball ended what might have been a storybook ending to Ridder’s debut.
On 3rd and 5 from midfield, Ridder hit London over the middle for a twelve yard gain, but the ball was punched out and the Saints recovered with just over two minutes remaining. The Falcons would get the ball back, but there wasn’t enough time to get back into field goal range, as they fell to the Saints by three points for the second time this season.
Ridder’s stat line is unacceptable for a starting quarterback in the NFL. Few teams are going to find a way to win when their signal caller doesn’t eclipse 100 yards passing. And frankly, he very easily could have had a couple of interceptions if the Saints were able to take advantage.
However, as we said all week, expectations need to be tempered. It’s hard to do, but Ridder is a rookie, and lumps of all sizes are to be expected, so I’m going to focus on the positives.
It would have been very easy for the Falcons to fall behind and lose complete control with a rookie quarterback under center, but Ridder commanded the huddle and kept things manageable in the second half. So much so that the Falcons had a chance to win at the end of the game. He looked much better as the game went on, which is something to build on moving forward.
I’m not sure if Ridder is or isn’t the guy in Atlanta, but these next three weeks are critical to the future of this franchise. They need to see what they have, and while Sunday was far from extraordinary, it also could have been a lot worse.
Photo: Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire
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