Marcus Mariota reportedly stepped away from Falcons following benching

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There is a potential controversy brewing in Flowery Branch. The Falcons recently named Desmond Ridder the starting quarterback for the rest of the season following the team’s loss to the Steelers and bye week. However, with the official announcement from Arthur Smith came some puzzling news — Marcus Mariota would likely hit the injured reserve due to a chronic knee injury.

I described it as the old phantom injury, which is more common in defenders dropping to a knee so the entire unit can catch their breath during a drive. It makes sense after the Falcons signed Logan Woodside off the Titans’ practice squad, though.

“Signed Logan Woodside for depth,” Smith stated. “The move was made as Marcus goes … he’s got a chronic knee that he wants to get evaluated. It had nothing to do with this decision, but he’s not here right now. We’ll see how the rest of the week goes, but anticipate him going on IR.”

Smith went on to specify that the team made the switch before Mariota’s injury was discussed. He went further to say the move to start Ridder was a “performance-based” decision. In 13 starts, the veteran has thrown for 2,219 yards, 15 touchdowns, and nine interceptions on 61.33% passing. Mariota also added another 438 yards and four scores on the ground for a total of 2,657 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 12 turnovers.

Now, it’s tinfoil hat time. Why would Mariota not appear on a single injury report all season? Why is he suddenly headed for the IR? Arthur Smith is a careful man. His choice of words is especially interesting, stating the decision was a performance-based one but eluded earlier in the season that Mariota would be the starter until the Falcons were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. It’s just all peculiar timing.

The quarterback change, the injury, and the reasoning. It’s strange the team’s last game against the Steelers was the final straw for Smith, and it’s the same time Mariota’s knee was a big enough issue that it required an IR stint and had nothing to do with the benching. Now, reports from Josh Kendall of The Athletic add more fuel to the fire.

The Falcons reportedly don’t know when or if Mariota will return to the team. The knee “is nothing that has been an issue this season, but that’s (Mariota’s) prerogative so … ” Smith said. “Of course, you want all your guys to be here, but guys have to make decisions. It’s part of professional sports. You have to have contingency plans.”

According to Kendall, the team informed Mariota of the change on Thursday morning. On Friday, the Falcons learned that Mariota planned to step away from the team. That is a damning indictment. It might be injury related or personal; I’m obviously hopeful nothing serious is going on with his family or friends. But on the surface, it sure seems like he’s taking his ball and going home.

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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