Falcons QB carousel: Taylor Heinicke named starter for rest of season, Desmond Ridder benched again

The Atlanta Falcons have had a roller-coaster season, and nowhere has that been more true than the handling of the team’s quarterback situation. 

Heading into a crucial stretch run, head coach Arthur Smith told reporters on Wednesday the plan going forward is to have Taylor Heinicke start for the rest of the season. This decision marks the third time this year the Falcons have made a change at quarterback and sent Desmond Ridder to the bench. 

“Obviously, Des came back a few weeks ago and the plan was to let him finish out the season,” Smith said. “That’s what the plan was, but you’ve got to be able to adapt. Same thing [with this situation]. I don’t want to keep switching week-to-week or half-to-half. That’s not what we want to do. Right now, we feel, where we’re at, that Taylor gives us our best chance.”  

This offseason, the Falcons declined to look into players like Lamar Jackson (who was a free agent on the franchise tag), instead insisting that 2022 third-round pick Ridder was their guy. During the early portion of the season, Ridder struggled, completing 65.4% of his passes at an average of 7.1 yards per attempt, with just six touchdowns against six interceptions through the first eight games of the year. The Falcons ended that stretch with a 4-4 record, and Ridder was benched for the second half of the last of those games.

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Smith strangely insisted that Ridder was not benched for performance issues, yet stuck with Heinicke as the starter for each of the team’s next two contests. During his three appearances, Heinicke went 41 of 74 for 498 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception, and he was benched in favor of Ridder after going just 8 of 15 for 55 yards and a score against the Cardinals.

Ridder has since started the last four games, during which the team has gone 2-2 as he went 63 of 107 for 788 yards, four touchdowns, and four interceptions. The team has lost back-to-back crucial contests against fellow NFC South opponents, most recently getting embarrassed by the previously one-win Carolina Panthers in a rain game on Sunday.

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It seems fairly clear that Ridder is not the long-term answer under center for this team, but Heinicke also seems unlikely to lead the Falcons to a turnaround that allows them to come back from their 6-8 hole and win the NFC South. The Falcons play the Colts on Sunday, then visit the Bears and Saints in their final two games of the season. They likely need to win at least two and possibly all three to grab a playoff spot, and even though reports surfaced over the weekend that Smith’s job could be safe beyond this year, if things go poorly, that could obviously change.

The Atlanta Falcons have made another change at the quarterback position, with Taylor Heinicke set to start for the rest of the season. This decision comes after the Falcons benched Desmond Ridder, who had previously been brought in as the starter. The team had initially believed Ridder would be their long-term quarterback, but his performance has been lacking. Heinicke has had mixed results in his three appearances, and it seems unlikely that he will be able to lead the Falcons to a playoff spot. The team is currently 6-8 and will need to win their remaining games to have a chance at the postseason. Head coach Arthur Smith’s job security could be in jeopardy if the team does not perform well in these final games.

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