The Atlanta Falcons are not going to the playoffs this year.
Barring some unholy intervention that slips the bonds of God, man, time and space, the Falcons will be spending the month of January planning for the future.
It’s not really surprising. The 2022 team has found a lot of fight in a much-maligned roster, and that can and should translate to something more in the future.
There’s really no reason to be all that upset about games like Sunday. Sure, you want to win those, but this is just where the Falcons are right now. They’re just not that good, 50 cents short of the dollar menu.
Planning for the future obviously requires a major look at the quarterback spot. If the Falcons are serious about giving rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder a chance at the starting job, they should make a switch during the bye week. There just aren’t any good reasons anymore not to start him, unless the team is absolutely starting Marcus Mariota at QB in fall 2023 (very unlikely) or Ridder is just viewed as a career backup (possible).
You’re never fully ready for your first NFL start, but the team needs to get Ridder in there and see where he is in his development. A four-game stretch of New Orleans, Baltimore, Arizona and Tampa Bay might seem steep on paper, but it’s what Ridder would be playing in every week if he were the starter next fall. Is it really too early to get a taste of what he’s got?
Mariota overcame a lot to get to where he was this season. It’s worth a lot of praise. However, he’s finishing up his eighth season in the NFL, and the Falcons know who he is and what he can do. He’s a smart leader and beloved in the locker room, but he’s also an erratic, inconsistent passer. The plays he makes with his legs are sometimes stunning, but the plays he makes with his throwing arm are sometimes deflating. He just is who he is.
That’s fine. Mariota is a good, good dude who still deserves to play in the NFL for years to come. He could find a Taysom Hill role with a franchise that can utilize him in that way, or he could settle in as one of the league’s better backups. Mariota probably just won’t be the Falcons starting quarterback in 2023. That matters.
It matters because the Falcons are going to make a huge decision this offseason on who that person might be. If it’s Ridder, it’s time to take off the kid gloves and let him play.
Having the bye week coming up and staring down very unlikely playoff odds gives the Falcons the perfect opportunity to make the switch. It’d be very unsettling to leave 2022 without any sense of how Ridder performs in the regular season.
Even if he struggles, you at least get a feel for what those struggles are, and how you can help him fix those going ahead. It’s not like he’s got a playoff push breathing down his neck.
It shouldn’t shake Ridder’s confidence to give him four starts. Heck, the guy has promised to win a Super Bowl as a Falcons quarterback already. Confidence doesn’t seem to be an issue. If he beats New Orleans on the road in two weeks, you might sell out all of your Ridder jerseys and half of your ticket packages for 2023. Christmas would come early!
If Arthur Smith doesn’t make it switch for Ridder, it’s doesn’t feel super ideal for the Cincinnati alum. If the team really has that much confidence in Ridder’s future, they hypothetically wouldn’t be against letting him build some momentum for 2023, right?
Just starting Ridder in 2023 without any starting snaps in 2022 would feel unwise.
If the team keeps the Mariota experience going, it either means they have misplaced confidence in his future as the starter or have a plan for another guy next year. If that other guy is really Ridder, just get him out there already.
Maybe the team signs a veteran quarterback and puts Ridder on competition with him. Maybe they draft someone, or make a blockbuster trade for Lamar Jackson. Maybe you’re the next quarterback for the Falcons, and you just don’t know it yet.
Ridder doesn’t have to be the next quarterback for the Falcons. It’s not that dire. However, with where the team is right now and considering what Ridder flashed in preseason, why not give the rook a try? The Falcons virtually have nothing to lose.