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Arthur Smith makes starting QB Desmond Ridder official Monday

The rookie will get his first career start against the New Orleans Saints, while Marcus Mariota may be headed to injured reserve.

Chicago Bears v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Last week during the bye, we all saw multiple reports that Desmond Ridder would be the new starting Falcons quarterback when the team takes the field against the Saints in Week 15. All that was left was to see the team make it official—and perhaps explain why they signed Logan Woodside off the Titans’ practice squad—when head coach Arthur Smith spoke to the media on Monday.

He did exactly that, confirming Ridder as the starter, and also noted that 13-game starter Marcus Mariota may be headed to injured reserve.

Ridder certainly does step right into a big moment, facing Atlanta’s most hated rival on the road in New Orleans. Smith told reporters Monday that the reason for the switch was performance-based, and as Falcons reporter Tori McElhaney noted above, the team clearly has faith that Ridder’s not going to fall apart in Louisiana. The rookie did show poise and ability in preseason, but obviously it has been months since those performances and the stakes are higher against a more difficult opponent. If Ridder pulls it off and beat the Saints on the road, he’ll be a Falcons legend more or less immediately.

The hope for the Falcons and Ridder is that they can get back on track after going 2-5 in their last seven games, with a struggling defense and lackluster passing game ranking as the team’s two most consistently frustrating issues over that span. There’s no guarantee Ridder will be an upgrade on Mariota—he’s likely not going to be quite the same caliber of threat on the ground, at the very least—but the Falcons will hope he can find some success through the air while this team tries to catch up to a flailing Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad atop the NFC South. A productive starter at Cincinnati with a good arm and wheels, Ridder will need to iron out some accuracy issues in the pros, but I’m genuinely excited to see what he can do in a four game audition to be the team’s long-term starter at quarterback.

The change was an overdue one, given that Atlanta’s passing game had ceased to be an asset weeks ago. Not all of that is on the quarterback—you should not be surprised if Ridder gets dropped due to poor line play a few times in the coming weeks—but much of it was. Given that Ridder has at least a small percentage change of being the future here, this looks needs to happen.

Mariota, meanwhile, will be done for the season if he’s placed on injured reserve. If that happens, the veteran will finish the 2022 season with quite a few highlight reel plays, some frustrating missed opportunities, and a total of 2,219 yards through the air to go with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Mariota also finishes with a career-high 438 yards and four touchdowns on the ground to go with four rushing touchdowns, and we hope his recovery goes well and he’s ready to go for the 2023 season, whether he returns to Atlanta or lands a starting job elsewhere. Logan Woodside will be Ridder’s backup.

On Tuesday, Josh Kendall at The Athletic wrote a longer story about Mariota that creates real questions about whether the veteran quarterback got the bad news and decided to walk away from the team. Mariota just had a baby and does apparently have a knee injury to tend to, so those items and the lack of clarity about exactly how the conversation went between coach and quarterback means we’ll never know exactly what went down here. The implication that Mariota may have essentially decided to hang it up for the year if he was benched probably means that he won’t be back in 2023.

Now we only have to wait several days to see Ridder take the field as the Falcons’ starter. How do you think he’ll fare against the Saints?