Quarterback Desmond Ridder set to start for the Falcons

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

The Falcons are making a move at quarterback.

Desmond Ridder, who was selected in the third round of the 2022 NFL draft, is set to start against the Saints at 1 p.m. Dec. 18 at Caesars Superdome, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution confirmed.

NFL Media first reported the move.

Ridder, who has not played a down in the regular season, will replace Marcus Mariota, who started the first 13 games and has guided the Falcons to a 5-8 record.

In the offseason, the Falcons elected to move on from Matt Ryan after 14 seasons after they lost the Deshaun Watson derby to Cleveland.

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Both players have been notified of the move. However, the Falcons will not make an official comment until Monday, when they return from their bye week.

“We would expect Desmond to be able to execute the game plan if he ever had to go in there,” quarterbacks coach Charles London said recently. “He’ll be fine. Just like any other player that has to come in. Everybody is on this roster for a reason. Everybody has got a job to do. We feel that everybody on this team is capable of performing whatever job they are asked to do.”

The Falcons are in second place in the NFC South behind Tampa Bay (6-6), with four games to play. The Falcons are set to play at the Saints (4-9), at the Ravens (8-4) at 1 p.m. Dec. 24, host the Cardinals (4-8) at 1 p.m. Jan. 1 and Tampa Bay a week later in the regular-season finale, with the date and time to be determined.

Some believe the move is prudent, while others see it as a signal that the Falcons are sending up the white flag of surrender by playing a rookie.

“(After) 13 straight weeks, then we got a bye, when we get to the bye week, that will be the time to get him ready to go,” said Charlie Weis, a SiriusXM NFL radio analyst and former coach. “Here we go. Let’s find out.”

Longtime NFL writer Ed Werder contended that move hands the division to Tom Brady and the Bucs.

“Good news for Tom Brady and the Bucs playoff hopes,” Werder wrote on Twitter.

If Ridder can make it through the final four games, the Falcons will have a good sample size to determine if he’s their quarterback of the future.

“They’ll have a good idea exactly where they are,” Weis said. “Let’s face it, if things go south, that’s one thing you might be looking at. I kind of like Ridder. He was a really outstanding quarterback at Cincinnati. I’m interested to see what they have.”

Ridder played in all three exhibition games. He completed 34 of 56 passes (60.7%) for 431 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He had a passer rating of 87.7.

Mariota has completed 184 of 300 passes (61.3%) for 2,219 yards, 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He has a passer rating of 88.2.

Under Mariota, the Falcons averaged 155.7 yards passing per game, which ranks 31st of 32 teams in the NFL. Mariota has rushed 85 times for a career-high 438 yards and four touchdowns.

With Mariota’s rushing yards, the Falcons rank second in the league, averaging 158.9 yards per game.

In addition to running the scout team, Ridder has put in some additional work after most practices.

“Simulating the team we are going to play,” London said. “He has to do a good job of understanding (the opposing offense) and what our defense needs to see during practice. But also then be able to execute our offense at a high level if needed because he’s only one play away.”

The Falcons insisted that they have been pleased with Ridder’s development.

“He’s going to continue to develop,” London said. “He’s going to grow. We’ll continue to work with him. We’ll take it from there.”

The Falcons have been pleased with how Ridder accepted the backup role.

“Obviously, as the season has gone on, he’s gotten more and more comfortable with it,” London said. “You’ve seen growth from there. Whether it’s mastering the game plan. Or mastering this concept or understanding this progression. You see a little bit more of it each week, which is a positive.”

In this year’s NFL draft, nine quarterbacks were selected. The Falcons made Ridder the second quarterback taken.

“I’m handling it well as far as the backup role,” Ridder said at the halfway point of the season a few weeks back. “I’m just waiting on my number to be called. I’m preparing every single day as if I’m the starter. Then you go out there on Sunday and then pray, injury-wise, that nothing happens to Marcus.”

The Falcons planned not to rush Ridder onto the field.

“Whatever happens and my time comes, I’m able to go in there and perform the way that I do every single day,” Ridder said.

Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone was a third-round pick (88th overall) like Ridder, but in 2003 by the Houston Texans. Ragone has shared with Ridder his thoughts on why he didn’t make it in the NFL.

“He spent his time in the league, and he learned his positives and his negatives,” Ridder said. “Obviously, all you want to try to do for the younger guys is to help them have the most successful career that they can have. When he tells us those things of what got him out of the league, he does it so that we don’t have to experience those things. It helps us a lot.”

The Steelers turned to Kenny Pickett, who was the first quarterback selected this year, with the 20th pick, and the only quarterback taken in the first round. He guided the Steelers to a 19-16 victory over the Falcons on Sunday.

Now it’s time to see Ridder play quarterback for the Falcons.

RIDDER’S DRAFT BIO

Third round (74th overall) – Desmond Ridder, quarterback

Height: 6-foot-3. Weight: 211. Overview: Ridder was the most athletic of the quarterbacks, as Malik Willis didn’t work out at the scouting combine. Ridder was first in the group in the 40-yard dash (4.52), vertical jump (36 inches) and broad jump (10-7). He’s from Louisville and played at St. Xavier High. He redshirted in 2017 before going on to a storied career. He led the Bearcats to the College Football Playoff last season. Ridder was the American Athletic Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2020 and 2021. Last season, he completed 251 of 387 passes (64.9%) for 3,334 yards and 30 touchdowns in 14 starts. He set school career records with 87 passing touchdowns and 12,418 yards of total offense.

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23

Oct. 2 Falcons 23, Browns 20

Oct. 9 Buccaneers 21, Falcons 15

Oct. 16 Falcons 28, 49ers 14

Oct. 23 Bengals 35, Falcons 17

Oct. 30 Falcons 37, Panthers 34 OT

Nov. 6 Chargers 20, Falcons 17

Nov. 10 Panthers 25, Falcons 15

Nov. 20 Falcons 27, Bears 24

Nov. 27 Commanders 19, Falcons 13

Dec. 4 Steelers 19, Falcons 16

BYE WEEK

Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD