The Atlanta Falcons did not win against the Minnesota Vikings, in case you hadn’t heard. Arthur Smith isn’t about to pin that on new starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke, however, and Heinicke is now in line for a second straight start on the road against the Arizona Cardinals.
Per team reporter Tori McElhaney, Smith cited the team’s newfound scoring ability as part of the reason to keep him at the helm. Characteristically, he did not close the door on Desmond Ridder making starts down the line, but he did indicate the team would make a decision on their long-term starter after the Week 11 bye.
“Especially going into this week, we’ll go with Taylor this week and kind of re-assess going into the bye,” Smith said. “(Heinicke has) played the last six quarters and we’ve scored 48 points with him back there. Obviously we want more than that, but that’ll be the plan this week.”
In those six quarters, Heinicke is completing 55.9% of his passes for 443 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, chipping in 34 yards on five carries. The best way to describe his performance to this point would probably be “workmanlike,” as Heinicke has had stretches where he has moved the offense quite effectively, stretches where he hasn’t done a nice job getting away from pressure, and a handful of really bad plays. The Falcons want to give him another week to prove he should stay in the job all season long, and if he can make some strides in terms of the turnover-worthy plays—he had three per Pro Football Focus on Sunday, though I counted four—he’s got a good chance to stick as the starter the rest of the way and provide reliable passing, the occasional heads-up scramble, and hopefully just a smattering of turnovers.
Minus Mack Hollins for part of the day and with no Drake London, though, Heinicke did enough to give Atlanta a fighting chance at this one. Had this been a vintage Falcons defensive performance circa Weeks 1-7, Atlanta likely would’ve held on and Heinicke would be riding high right now. Because they didn’t, he gets saddled with a rough loss his play didn’t warrant.
That’s true even though crediting Heinicke for 28 points on Sunday is a massive stretch. He threw a sharp ball to Jonnu Smith on the screen score, but Jonnu took it about 50 of those yards himself after the catch. Heinicke contributed a 14 yard pass and 13 yard scramble to the second Falcons touchdown drive, which was valuable but not decisive with the other 52 yards coming from Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier runs. On all other drives, the Falcons had four field goals, some punts, and a hail mary that fell well short at the end of the game, and it’s difficult to give Heinicke any credit on two of those field goals given that the Falcons went a combined -10 yards on the two drives to set them up. The good outweighed the bad for Heinicke and that’s really important right now, given that the reverse was often true for Ridder, but the team’s current level of quarterback play regardless of starter is only going to be good enough if the defense can clamp down hard again.
The Falcons still have a quarterback problem that meshes nicely with all their other major problems on offense, in other words, in that they no longer appear to have a compelling long-term option on the roster. They won’t go into 2024 with Heinicke as their slam dunk starter and RIdder would have to get the job back after the bye and absolutely crush it to have that job at this point, which means an expensive trade, free agent acquisition, or potential trade up in the draft for a quarterback is likely in our future. That’s not where any of us want to be, including the team.
For the moment, though, the Falcons just desperately need to get a win before the bye and settle in so they can get back on track to win the NFC South. They’re looking at what Heinicke has offered over the past couple of weeks and deciding he gives the team the best shot of getting that elusive victory, and we hope they’re correct there.