Arthur Smith has reportedly made another decision on the most important position in all of football: walking back his last decision on the most important position in all of football. Taylor Heinicke, who has a proven career as a very good backup but poor starter, has been benched after poor play at starter.
In his place, of course, is the recently monitored-for-a-concussion-then-cleared-then-benched Desmond Ridder. Heinicke provided a spark filling in for Ridder against the Titans, then provided an implosion after he was named the starter. The Falcons lost both Heinicke starts as the offense was largely ineffective against Minnesota and Arizona.
Per Ian Rapoport of NFL dot com, the Falcons hope they are, but aren’t necessarily, riding with Ridder for the rest of the season.
The hope is that the two-game break during which Heinicke started serves as a reboot for Ridder.... The goal for Smith and Atlanta has been to name a starter and stick with him the rest of the season rather than go back and forth... Ridder’s best performance of the season came during the Falcons’ last-second win over the now-red-hot Houston Texans on Oct. 8, throwing for 329 yards with a touchdown and zero turnovers. That’s the Ridder the Falcons want to see.
Per NFL Network’s James Palmer, Heinicke had to shine to keep the job.
From what I'm told, the Falcons believed the bulk of Ridder's mistakes were correctable & felt he had a lot of learning to do. A move back to him was always planned unless Taylor Heinicke went on a ridiculous run. It wasn't like they fell out of love with Ridder. Needed a reset. https://t.co/jNF4EZVsWs— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) November 19, 2023
For head coach Smith, criticism has been mounting as his team struggles to gain yardage, points, or even get the ball to its most elite athletes. Atlanta’s “positionless” offense has created a lot of opportunities for its backups with frustrating usage of its starters, without providing the sort of dynamic moments the term “positionless” offers up. Now changing quarterbacks twice in just a few weeks with playoffs becoming more remote, critics could fairly ask if there is a plan or if the Falcons simply make sudden moves out of desperation with no consideration to the short or long term. Right or wrong, the criticism is unlikely to subside without wins.
The plan was perhaps shrouded by inconsistent messages from Smith, who chastised media for criticizing Ridder only a few days before his benching. Was the hope that Heinicke could carry Atlanta to the playoffs? Was it worth benching the quarterback the team spent all offseason talking up, potentially impacting Ridder’s development?
Rapoport points to Smith’s comments earlier this week hoping the benching gives Ridder a refresh and a reset. That’s something rarely seen in the NFL at the quarterback position. These are bold moves you rarely see from playoff teams.
Either way, the Falcons are back to where the team was only a few weeks back, just short of a handful of wins. Ridder starts against the New Orleans Saints, but until we see how he performs and whether this team is willing to stick to a long-term plan, it is anyone’s guess if he finishes the game.