Just like it was foolhardy to assume much about quarterback Desmond Ridder after his sloppy first start, it’d be unwise to coronate him as a franchise savior after one promising afternoon.
Sure, the Atlanta Falcons couldn’t keep pace with the Baltimore Ravens in the throngs of winter’s worst. Ridder didn’t look half bad, though. While the team never reached the end zone, it might’ve reached some new pockets of optimism that this Ridder kid might be onto something. If they get two more weeks of that, the Falcons might be cooking with gas.
Ridder’s Saturday won’t earn him Hall of Fame honors. They also won’t make many folks remember his performance on the Sunday prior. While he looked like a struggling rookie in that contest, he came into Baltimore looking like a different guy once he settled down.
He played with confidence. He started to see the field a bit better than the week before. He started hitting some of his longer throws. His chemistry with Drake London produced two astonishing throws and catches. He was leading the offense downfield and rising to key moments, including yet another clutch fourth-down pass that London again sadly fumbled away. It looked his game against the Saints was a warmup, and this was his actual debut.
During the first quarter against Baltimore, Ridder looked too jumpy to really get anything going. For the rest of the game, he actually looked like an NFL quarterback.
For the first time since he joined the team, he gave this coaching staff some actual game tape they could show to Arthur Blank in the offseason to justify making him the prime candidate to start next fall. Even if the team continues to fall upwards in the draft order, Ridder’s tantalizing second start might be the spark to help make the case for his future in Atlanta.
There are a lot of “ifs, ands and buts” floating around Ridder. One game won’t cement his NFL career, just like one game won’t tank it. If he’s ever looks shaky, well, he’s only started two NFL games on a largely mediocre team. If he’s ever looked promising, well, this regime didn’t just draft him to hold a clipboard.
The Falcons saw something in Ridder that made them think he could develop into a meaningful starting quarterback one day, perhaps even a franchise one. On Saturday, he gave them some hope that they might’ve been onto something.
Not to be hyperbolic, but his game in Baltimore was leaps and bounds better than his game in New Orleans. You saw him chisel away some of those rookie mistakes that plagued him against the Saints. He wasn’t perfect, but perfection is unattainable for someone in Ridder’s shoes. He literally just became an NFL starter this month.
The fact that he was able to go into a hostile environment like Baltimore, in this weather, against that defense, and hold his own, speaks volumes. It doesn’t mean he’s the next Patrick Mahomes—who is, really—but it could mean that he’s going to adapt to this process much more quickly than his first game indicated.
When you make those big-time throws and keep your composure under such difficult circumstances, you’re going to inspire some hope. There is still so much ahead for Ridder. He’s got a lot to work on. He’s not going to be averse to some ugly highlights, but he’s also got some great ones under his belt already. He’s still a prospect, but he flashed moments on Saturday that made you think he really could be somebody. Even if the Falcons didn’t walk away with a win against the Ravens, they did walk away having a much better idea of what life might look like with Ridder behind center.
It didn’t look half bad, all things considered.
We’ll see exactly what happens before next fall. Goodness knows this process can be impossible to predict. Ridder’s next test, a home game against the Trace McSorley or Colt McCoy Cardinals, will be telling. The Falcons would certainly love to enter the 2023 offseason not having to stress about the quarterback spot. Ridder showing promise won’t stop them from pursuing a veteran fallback option, but it could make them feel okay with passing on this draft class. If Ridder turns back into a pumpkin against Arizona, well, then we have another discussion.
However, in the freezing cold against a playoff team, Ridder didn’t flinch. He did just about everything he probably could to get the team as far it could go. Whether that’ll be enough in the long run is yet to be seen. For now, it felt like opening a gift on Christmas morning.