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Arthur Smith: Starting quarterback decision for Week 16 Colts game still to be made

There are no great options, but the Falcons are staring down the barrel of a losing season and have to put a quarterback change on the table.

NFL: NOV 05 Vikings at Falcons Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Desmond Ridder’s interception on Sunday may have been the last straw. This coaching staff and larger franchise committed to him over the summer, declined to open up a competition and largely held him out of preseason action, and went into the year with plenty of talk about their belief in the young quarterback. Now he may be benched for the second time, and if he is, I’d expect this one to stick for the final three games.

It seemed likely the team would at least mull a quarterback change after Ridder’s back-breaking turnover, the latest in a long line of costly mistakes, turned what seemed like a likely win into a tough loss. The defense fell apart on that final, long drive, but I don’t think it’s exactly fair to let Ridder off the hook for piloting an offense that scored just seven points all day and turned a would-be scoring drive into a turnover. It appears Arthur Smith, having seen this team drop two in a row and flirt with the kind of late season collapse that might cost him his job, is considering pressing the big red button that says Taylor Heinicke again.

It goes without saying that this smacks of desperation. The Falcons already went to Heinicke once because they needed to “win now” and Ridder’s turnovers were killing their chances of doing so, and Heinicke played forgettable football in Ridder’s stead en route to an 0-2 record. I wouldn’t have exactly blamed the Falcons had they just stuck with Heinicke—he had his fair share of turnover-worthy plays but only actually turned it over once—but they decided to go back to Ridder post-bye and see if the benching might’ve given him some perspective and improvement. They’ve gone 2-2 since, with Ridder turnovers once again hurting them in all four games. It’s really just that the interception against the Panthers was so inexplicable and so directly tied to the outcome that it’s hard for the head coach of the 6-8 Falcons to not at least consider switching back to the guy who did that sort of thing less frequently.

It speaks volumes about the weakness of the quarterback situation in Atlanta that the Falcons are considering going down this road for a second time, and it says a lot about the heat on Smith. For the former, the fact that Heinicke was mediocre but still might look like a more attractive option than Ridder tells you the team has been unable to iron out the young quarterback’s worst habits and that his long-term future with the team as a starter is either over or on the cusp of being over. Ridder has, after all, fumbled 11 times and thrown 10 picks, and for all the moments where the talent shines through and he makes the smart play, there is at least one play where he’s doing something you’d get screamed at for considering in a backyard football game. For the latter, the fact that Smith might be headed for a third consecutive 7-10 or worse season in a year that was supposed to be year three of a three year plan will at least open the door for Arthur Blank to consider changing coaches again in 2024. The team’s decision to tie themselves to this quarterback room and inability to get more out of those quarterbacks has been a major reason why they’ve scuffled so mightily this season, and it may take down the coaching staff and these quarterbacks by the end of it all.

For now, all we can do is wait until later this week when the team makes the announcement, and I’m genuinely uncertain whether the Falcons will try it with Ridder for one more week with a short leash or if they’ll just rip the bandage off and roll with Heinicke for the final three games. The only certainty is that the choice they make has to work out brilliantly, or there’s a chance that everyone involved it from Arthur Smith to the quarterbacks themselves is out of a job heading into 2024.