Desmond Ridder leads Falcons to 21-19 win over Texans

Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder threw for a career-high 329 yards and the Falcons went up 21-19 on a 37-yard field goal by Younghoe Koo.

Quarterback Desmond Ridder turned in a sterling performance, throwing for a career-high in yards, to help the Falcons defeat the Texans 21-19 on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Texans sat on the Falcons running game and dared Ridder to beat them with his arm. With 1:49 to play, he drove the Falcons into position for Younghoe Koo to make a 37-yard field goal at the buzzer for the victory, snapping a two-game losing streak.

Ridder shined as he completed 28 of 37 passes for a career-high 329 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons improved to 3-2 on the season, while the Texans dropped to 2-3.

“Pretty damn good,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said when asked to assess Ridder’s play.

Elaborate please.

“He was about as cool as you could see,” Smith said. “There are a lot of times when I just look at players. That look in his eye, all of our guys, they executed the plan, took control of the situation and when he needed to deliver one, he did and Drake (London) came down with it and essentially ended the game.”

Ridder also ran for a touchdown in the first-quarter. His previous high was 237 yards in the 25-24 win over the Packers on Sept. 17.

“We came out and did what we needed to do,” Ridder said. “It was great for us to come out there and get a great team win.”

Ridder completed passes to 10 different receivers and finished with a passer rating of 111.2.

“He’s built for this league,” backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke said. “He proved all those people talking (last) week, wrong. It’s something to build on. If we can sustain that, it would be awesome.”

Tight end Kyle Pitts led the way with seven catches for 87 yards.

“Inside the building we all know what we can do,” Pitts said. “We stand behind Des. We knew it was coming.”

London had six catches for 78 yards. Tight end Jonnu Smith added six catches for 67 yards.

“It’s really about letting the playmakers go and make plays,” Ridder said. “We’re going to put the ball in our best players’ hands.”

After throwing two interceptions in the 23-6 loss to the Jaguars in London last week, some were calling for Ridder to be benched.

“I think what it says is a lot about him,” Arthur Smith said. “It’s tough to be a quarterback in this league. That’s what they sign up for. A lot of those guys are well compensated. It’s takes a special mindset. He’s got the right mindset.”

Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud struggled for most of the day on third down, but led the Texans on a late 75-yard touchdown drive. He tossed a 18-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Schultz with 1:49 to play for a Texans’ 19-18 lead.

Trailing much of the day on four Texans field goals, Ridder tossed a 6-yard shovel pass to Bijan Robinson in the fourth quarter to give the Falcons the lead. He tossed a two-point conversion pass to Tyler Allgeier to make it 15-12.

“As a quarterback you always love those because they are easy TD passes,” Ridder said.

Koo added a 33-yard field goal to 18-12 with 6:57 to play.

The Falcons’ defense was lights out for most of the day until the Schultz touchdown. The Falcons held Stroud to 4-of-13 (30.8%) on third downs.

The Falcons had some untimely penalties late in the second quarter that helped the Texans take a 9-7 halftime lead on a 28-yard field goal. They had two fumbles in the third quarter.

“My guys had my back,” Jonnu Smith said.

Center Drew Dalman, cornerback Jeff Okudah and defensive tackle David Onyemata each had key penalties.

On third-and-7 from Houston’s 34, Dalman was called for a unnecessary roughness penalty for blocking after the whistle. The Falcons completed a 4-yard pass to Kyle Pitts, but the penalty put them at the 44. Instead of a 47-yard field goal attempt, the Falcons had to punt.

“That personal foul probably was at least a three-point swing…it did happen,” Arthur Smith said. “Those are the things we have to eliminate.”

Okudah had a holding penalty to help the Texans’ ensuing drive. The Texans hadn’t converted on five previous third downs, but on third-and-10 from Houston’s 42, Stroud connected with wide receiver Tank Dell for a 29-yards with Okudah in coverage.

The Texans were in field goal range.

After seven-yard gain to the Falcons’ 22, the Texans picked up seven more yards and Onyemata was called for a delay of game penalty for an additional five yards to move the ball to the 10. Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett batted down a pass and the Texans sent out the kicker.

Instead of potentially taking a 10-6 lead, the Falcons found themselves down 9-7.

The Falcons fumbled the ball away on their first and second possessions of the third quarter. The Texans turned Robinson’s fumble into a 42-yard field goal to make it 12-7. The Texans were stopped after Jonnu Smith’s fumble.

Right tackle Kaleb McGary left the game with an knee injury. Storm Norton took his place in the lineup.

“We are expected to go out there and perform,” Norton said. “It’s just something where you have to apply a little extra work after being here short-term. I felt good being out there.”

The Falcons won the toss and elected to receive. They promptly went three-and-out like they had in three of the four previous games.

Linebacker Bud Dupree and Onyemata made a stop of Houston running back Dameon Pierce for no gain on third down-and-1 from the 19-yard line. Houston kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn made a 38-yard field goal to make it 3-0.

The Falcons gashed the Texans on their next possession. They went on a seven-play, 75-yard TD drive that was capped by a nine-yard touchdown run by Ridder. Koo’s point after made it 7-3.

The Falcons had gains of 13, 22, 12 and 16 on the drive as Ridder completed 3-of-3 passes on the drive for 32 yards. London had a 22-yard pass to Jonnu Smith.

After an exchange of punts, Fairbairn added a 43-yard field with 14:14 left in the second quarter to make it 7-6.

After another exchange of punts, the Falcons were backed up on their 11-yard line. Falcons fullback Keith Smith got them moving with a career-long reception of 28 yards. His longest catch was a 14-yarder back in 2016 with the Cowboys.

The promising drive stalled at the 40.

The Falcons’ defense made a stop and the offense drove down to the 30 before Dalman’s costly penalty.

In addition to McGary, cornerback A.J. Terrell was injured and examined for a concussion. He was cleared and returned to the game.

The Texans entered the game intent on stopping the run. Robinson was held to 46 yards on 14 carries and Tyler Allgeier had 40 yards on 17 carries.

The Falcons are set to host the rested Commanders (2-3), who were pummeled by 40-20 by the Bears on Thursday.

“We know there is a lot of work to do,” Arthur Smith said. “If we don’t improve and grow, we’ll get humbled pretty quick. So, we are not going to take any victory laps, but we are very pleased. It was great to see his response this week.”

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