Falcons to start QB Desmond Ridder, bench Marcus Mariota: Source

Rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder will start for the Atlanta Falcons when the team returns from their bye week to face the Saints in New Orleans, according to a league source. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Atlanta drafted Ridder in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Ridder helped guide Cincinnati to an appearance in the College Football Playoff in the 2021 season.
  • Ridder will replace veteran Marcus Mariota, who started every game for the Falcons this season. Mariota went 5-8 as Atlanta’s starter.
  • Mariota completed 61.3 percent of his passes this season, which ranks 30th among 33 qualified quarterbacks. He threw for 2,219 yards with 15 touchdown passes and nine interceptions resulting in an 88.2 passer rating.
  • The Falcons have lost four of their last five games before their Week 14 bye week.

The Athletic’s instant analysis:

Evaluation time for Ridder

We can all quibble and say, “This should have happened sooner,” but that doesn’t matter now. The Falcons have four games – assuming they don’t make the playoffs — to evaluate Ridder as a starting quarterback. That should be enough of a resume for coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot to determine whether they need to go in another direction in the offseason. The Falcons will have a ton of cap space after the season, so theoretically they could sign a quarterback in free agency, acquire one in trade or draft one again. But if Ridder shows enough promise, they can spend their assets elsewhere. It’s unfortunate Ridder will not have the benefit of tight end Kyle Pitts, who’s out for the season, but it will be interesting to watch how other players on the offense respond to a new player in the huddle. — Schultz

What will Ridder be facing

Ridder looked comfortable in Atlanta’s offense during extensive preseason playing time, but he hasn’t appeared in a regular season game yet. In the final four games of the regular season he will face defenses ranked 16th (Saints), 14th (Ravens), 24th (Cardinals) and eighth (Buccaneers) in the NFL in defensive EPA per play allowed. How he will fare now that defenses are scheming to stop him is unknown, but it probably won’t be much worse than Mariota as of late. From Week 9 through Week 13, a stretch in which Atlanta lost four of five games, Mariota was 29th in the league in EPA per dropback (-0.09) and the Falcons averaged 17.6 points per game, which ranked 26th in the league. — Kendall


The Falcons went into quarterback rebuilding mode during the offseason by trading away former NFL MVP Matt Ryan to the Colts. Atlanta signed Mariota in free agency in March and drafted Ridder about a month later.

What they’re saying

“We will evaluate everything. Every job is open,” Smith said after the Falcons’ Week 13 loss to the Steelers. “Got some private thoughts, but we need to decompress, we need to meet as a staff. Sure, we’ve been close, but we have to evaluate everything, get back over the hump, get back in the winning category.”

Smith added: “You want to make sure you are doing the right thing, not overreacting emotionally, but sometimes change, yeah, there are plenty of examples that can help spark something.”

Mariota acknowledged the possibility of his benching following the Pittsburgh loss.

“That’s not where my mind is at,” he said. “I’m still trying to reflect on what happened in the game. At the end of the day, they have to make a decision that’s best for the team. Whatever happens, happens, but I’m not really thinking about that right now.”

Required reading

(Photo: Brett Davis / USA Today)

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