This is one of those weeks where it’s easy to tell what everyone is going to be talking about. It’s the NFL, and the Atlanta Falcons do not have a proven long-term option at quarterback right now. The quarterback that the team is trying to prepare for that role just lost, and he didn’t play his best ball in the process.
You can guess where a good bit of the blame is going for why that loss went down how it did. A year ago, Desmond Ridder was the most popular man in Atlanta as the backup quarterback sitting behind a struggling starter. Right now, he’s one of its most polarizing citizens. Just in his second season, the 2022 third-round pick is getting the full starting NFL quarterback experience, both off the field and on the field. Welcome to the league, kid.
Trying to pin the Falcons’ 20-6 loss to the Detroit Lions solely on Ridder is objectively incorrect. He didn’t play like an MVP candidate, but he also got sacked seven times. He didn’t hit those key throws that he did in the first two weeks of the season, but he also can’t block Aidan Hutchinson during a passing rep or sack Jared Goff on a third-and-long. The defense mostly acquitted itself well on Sunday, but it takes a team effort to lose 20-6 like that.
A bit of perspective: Ridder has played about as well as you could hope for how third-round quarterbacks usually perform after being drafted. History has been against Ridder for his draft positioning since he got here, but he’s one of the few who has been given the keys to the kingdom to prove his worth over a full season’s schedule. However, he’s yet to really put it all together for four quarters to play the kind of football that will lock down the job for good, and that’s putting it mildly.
That should not be a surprise. He’s only played in seven NFL games, and it’s hard to expect any young quarterback to be the best version of themselves after playing less than half a season, even if some do hit the ground running. For Ridder, it’s four games to get your feet wet as a rookie, a long offseason of preparation and three games to get acclimated to your first season under center as the starter. You really want progress (and soon), but you just can’t expect perfection right now.
There are two definitive truths about Ridder: he’s not playing like a top-tier quarterback right now, and he’s not a finished product by any stretch of the imagination. He, like the team he plays for, is a work in progress. We’re not sure what the endgame is with Ridder, but we’re not sure about the endgame with anything on this team right now. It’s fine to point out where this throw was off or this read wasn’t the best option, but can we really make any sort of major declarations about his future behind center in Atlanta right now? No, not really. Not when the Falcons themselves will do nothing of the sort; not when the Falcons have gone out of their way to invest in building him up as the starter.
The Falcons will only go as far as Ridder will ultimately take them this year, but he’s only lost one game for the team in this calendar year. He went 2-0 in January, and he’d gone 2-0 up to Sunday’s difficult day in Detroit against a Lions team further along than the Falcons in its efforts to push for a Super Bowl. Those are team wins rather than quarterback wins, but at his best the young quarterback has had a real hand in getting the team there.
In Detroit, Ridder faced a quality defense on the road, and he wasn’t able to rise to the occasion in crunch time like he was in his first two starts this season. It doesn’t make the loss go down any easier, but it does put it in perspective.
Ridder has made some very fine plays with the Falcons, and he’s made some truly icky decisions, too. He’s got highlights and lowlights, and this won’t be the last day where the latter outweighs the former. He’s not fully formed into what he’ll ultimately be as a starter in this league. We’re not sure if his ceiling will be good enough to lock down the Falcons’ starting role in 2024, but we’re also still at a point where he could start to make leaps and bounds and really show why he’s worth sticking with past this year. There are many roads ahead, and only Ridder can determine which one he takes.
The Falcons’ options at quarterback since 2021 haven’t been great. The past couple of draft classes haven’t given the Falcons many options at their draft positioning that they seemed interested in pursuing outside of Ridder, and the franchise avoided an abject disaster when Deshaun Watson chose Cleveland. Lamar Jackson being traded here was probably never an actual possibility, and the team will have plenty of young quarterbacks to choose from in the loaded 2024 class. Guys like Kyler Murray and Justin Fields could be acquired via trade next offseason, too. If Ridder isn’t it by the end of the season, the Falcons will have meaningful options to find his replacement, and fans will be justly clamoring for them.
However, what if Ridder really is the guy, and he’s just working out the flaws in his game to become the best version of himself? We know he’s got the moxie to win in tense situations, and we know he’s got the smarts and leadership ability to impress his coaching staff and his teammates. Quarterback wins aren’t a stat, but he’s played well at the right times outside of this game against Detroit. Even on Sunday, hitting a handful of throws late could’ve changed how this game went. He didn’t hit those this time and is drawing understandable criticism for that; next time might be different.
If you’re already out on Ridder, maybe consider taking a few steps back and giving the young quarterback some time to figure things out. If you’re still on the Ridder Railway (TM), Sunday’s game might not have been the smoothest ride to make your case for why you’re behind him, and you have to understand that the criticism is inevitable. However, he’s done enough at this point to hint that a better quarterback is in there, the kind that can actually lead this franchise past this season.
I’m not sure if he’ll get there, but I’ve genuinely got enough faith in his potential and this coaching staff’s ability to maximize it to hope for the best. At the very least, it’s far, far too early to make the final call either way. As you’d be wise to do with the team on a whole, being patient with Ridder will be a necessity in the weeks ahead. We’ve seen the sparks, and we’ve seen the spinouts. Typically, young quarterbacks give you more of the latter than the former, and that’s tough for a fanbase that is starved for winning seasons to watch.
As long as we keep seeing those sparks and those multiply in the weeks ahead, we really could be in a position to count on Ridder for the starting job next season. If he’s no better in January 2024 than he was in January 2023, we might—no, we will—have a more difficult conversation.
We’ll see soon enough which Ridder route the Falcons will take once this season is over. Until then, try to enjoy the ride even if it’s bumpy. We could be as easily on the verge of something special as we are in another year of a quarterback carousel; either way, the ride isn’t over just yet.