Falcons sticking with Marcus Mariota at quarterback

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Falcons coach Arthur Smith says the team is focused on moving forward and has turned the page on the two losses in a five-day span from Nov. 6-10.

FLOWERY BRANCH — After two consecutive losses, Falcons coach Arthur Smith is not ready to bench quarterback Marcus Mariota in favor of rookie Desmond Ridder, who has not played a down this season.

“There is no situation,” Smith said Monday. “There was never a situation ever. I don’t know where that ... You understand why the question is getting asked. You lose two games in five days. Everybody wants to panic.”

The Falcons (4-6) are set to host the Chicago Bears (3-7) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Falcons are in second place in the NFC South and trail the Bucs (5-5) by one game with seven to play.

“We’re right where we want to be,” Smith said. “The reality is that you’re right in the middle of the playoff race. A conference opponent coming in here for a game that we need to win.”

Mariota is coming off a 19-of-30 passing performance for 186 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. There were at least three other passes that could have been intercepted, including one he threw while rolling around on the ground. He was ruled down by contact.

“I think you’re seeing a couple plays here that you could blame on him, but there is also plenty of blame to go around,” Smith said. “Operationally, like I said, you get pressure right there, I don’t know what to tell the quarterback when he’s looking down to pick the ball up and … it’s a low snap and there’s a defender right in his face.

“That’s kind of hard to overcome there. There are a lot of little things that add up to it that we can do better, and we have at times. I wouldn’t pinpoint it just on one player.”

Smith would not address Mariota’s decision-making in the 25-15 loss to the Panthers.

“As a team, what alarms you is not staying on track,” Smith said. “Not staying as clean operationally in all three phases. That’s what alarms you as a coach.”

Smith was asked if he’s confident if Ridder had to play.

“Everybody that has a helmet, our confidence level is high,” Smith said. “All 48 guys. We just haven’t put in any two-quarterback plays. Usually, your backup quarterback doesn’t play unless you put in some two-quarterback packages.

“Maybe we can do that. Done it before. But, look, if a guy has a helmet, we have confidence if we’re going to play him. If that’s at backup guard or the fourth edge rusher. All of those guys.”

There are other issues on offense that Smith, who calls the plays, is concerned about.

“If we felt one move would be the difference between us winning and losing, we’d make that move,” Smith said. “We’re not at that point at a lot of spots. …That’s the low-hanging fruit. It’s not the reason that we lost the last two games. Everybody has had a part in that.”

Smith contended that no change at quarterback was forthcoming.

“We’re playing the guys that have been playing,” Smith said. “If we had a major announcement, I’ll tell you. This is kind of comical ... if we were going to make a change, I’d come in here and tell you we’re going to make a change.”

In addition to the non-situation at quarterback, the Falcons did a mini-bye week self-scout of their entire operation.

“Where are we at?” Smith said. “Why we’re in the position that we are in right now? Take it all. The good. The bad. The ugly. There are some things that are encouraging, that we can hopefully clean up here quickly. Just some of the things we’ll try to stay away from.”

The Falcons had a chance to win the game against the Chargers but committed too many blunders. They had the ball with a chance to tie the Panthers but failed to capitalize on the opportunities.

“When you play two games like that in five days and come up short for different reasons, when you had a chance to win it in the fourth,” Smith said. “Certainly, that can linger. But you’ve got to turn the page and be objective like I’ve tried to do since the day I got here.”

The defense, which is ranked 31st (out of 32) in yards allowed at 399.5, received its share of scrutiny.

“Why are we giving up some explosives at certain times in critical situations?” Smith said. “Different schemes. It’s not just one player or one scheme. You’ve got to get to the bottom of it. Everything. When we are calling things. Certain matchups.”

The defense could receive a boost with the return of cornerback A.J. Terrell, who missed the past three games with a hamstring injury.

“He’s been in here working,” Smith said. “Hopefully, we’ll get him back.”

The Bucs have a bye this week. The Falcons, who don’t have their bye until after Week 13, can pick up a half-game with a win over the Bears.

“We’re 4-6 with a big game at home,” Smith said. “We’re still right in the middle of it. So, this is a critical week for us. We’ll find a lot about ourselves.”

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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 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.

Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.

Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.

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