Excited young Falcons learn a little about winning

Picture quarterback Desmond Ridder at the podium Sunday, dissecting his part in the Falcons 25-24 victory over Green Bay. He couldn’t get the words out quickly enough or loudly enough. He was a verbal Category Four storm. He was rat-a-tat-tatting as if performing a 15-minute long drum solo, only without the drums.

Excited doesn’t begin to describe his mood. If only we all could put aside our well-founded suspicions about this franchise and be just as juiced on the joy of one fourth-quarter comeback that combined the best of rising to the moment and play-calling that possessed the nerve of the entire Ocean’s 11 franchise.

Quick excerpt. It went something like this when Ridder touched on the subject of his 4-0 home record since taking over late last season for the quitter, Marcus Mariota:


Now repeat that, only taking out all the spaces between the words and belting them out as if trying to be heard on the runway at Hartsfield-Jackson.

It was but one game in a long series of encounters, a second against a similarly young and untried quarterback – this time it was Green Bay’s Jordan Love, last week it was Carolina’s Bryce Young. And Ridder has won them both, not always looking like the ace of the staff but still coming out with a smile.

Sunday’s was the kind of game that should be a greatly useful experience for a young quarterback with some young tools, if they were paying attention. And they seemed to be.

Ridder again, this time in lower case, just for style sake: “It’s huge and it’s crucial. Throughout that entire fourth quarter I was just trying to stay calm, stay patient and let it come to me. Let the play play itself. But not only for myself but for the offense – that was huge right there.”

Trailing by a dozen with less than a minute left in the third quarter, the Falcons decisively outscored the Packers 13-0 in the fourth for the narrowest of victories. Not the kind of margin that has treated them well in the recent past (seven of their losses last season by six points or less).

Dressed in throwback, 1966-vintage red helmets, the Falcons defense did ol’ Tommy Nobis proud by limiting Green Bay to only 10 plays and no first downs in the final quarter.

The offense then breathed real life into the comeback.

First a 75-yard touchdown drive that pulled the Falcons within five, highlighted by Ridder’s longest pass play as a pro – a 45-yard connection to Mack Hollins – and the quarterback’s 6-yard, fourth-down sprint to the endzone.

Then successive field goal drives, the last one defined by Arthur Smith’s boldness. The Falcons were in range of the go-ahead field goal with the 2-minute warning approaching, 4th-and-1 on the Green Bay 23. Some of the lily-livered in the pressbox – raised hand here – thought the coach should kick. Smith opted instead to pitch the ball to his rookie running back Bijan Robinson in order to – if it worked – bleed more clock and make the Packers spend their final time out. It worked, Robinson skittering for 7 yards. “You got to get the first down when you get a call like that,” Robinson said, apparently unaware that there was any other option.

“We don’t play on our fears,” Smith said, creating the Falcons slogan for the day.

The coach’s second best quick-hitting thought concerned the impact of his young quarterback, the center of such uncertainty in his first full season as a starter. “He embodies what we’re about,” Smith said.

Like the Falcons, Ridder was far from flawless. But even when he threw the first interception of his pro life on his 136th ever attempt – throwing up a floater after being hit in the first quarter – that was in a way reassuring.

If you’re not throwing a pick once in a while, you’re not trying. And plenty has been made of Ridder not daring enough downfield.

You can’t trust a guy who doesn’t have at least one scar. If someone tells you he didn’t cry during “Field of Dreams” or he never had a regret after 2 a.m., then there’s something wrong.

And, just the same, you can’t believe in a quarterback who hasn’t thrown an interception.

Ridder tried to throw a couple more Sunday, but Green Bay didn’t seem particularly interested in catching them.

But when it mattered, the youthful nucleus of the Falcons attack produced.

Robinson, of course, on the vital first down. That and the 124 yards rushing and 48 yards receiving he had total for the day.

“He’s quickly becoming someone we can trust,” tackle Jake Matthews said. “Without question one of our key players on offense.”

“He does nothing but good things for us,” Ridder said of his back.

As for the QB, he went 6-of-8 for 119 of his total 237 passing yards in the fourth quarter.

Not perfect. Ridder gave himself a C overall for Sunday, a hard, unblinking grade, but a fair one.

Still, the kind of day and type of win to light a fire in a youngster.