Smith’s positivity is in stark contrast to how the Falcons played Sunday and broadly over the last three weeks, as they’ve gone 0-3 against three quarterbacks making their first start in 2023. Now, during the bye week, the Falcons plan to reevaluate, reset and rest.
The most pressing question for the team - which quarterback will start against the Saints in first game back from bye week?
Taylor Heinicke played more than three quarters on Sunday before exiting with a hamstring injury, putting together 55 passing yards and throwing for a touchdown. Desmond Ridder entered in the fourth quarter, going four-for-six while powering the Falcons on a scoring drive.
Smith did not commit to a quarterback on Monday, saying both have done good things and he plans to reassess during the bye week. But Smith said he thought Sunday was a good “reset” for Ridder.
“What you saw with Des was very encouraging,” Smith said. “That’s tough for anybody. As a young player in his career, he had success. It wasn’t like he went out there and it was over. But we needed to get to terms on control and some other things going on.”
“I always watch who wants the ball when the game’s on the line, and he wanted the ball in his hands. That’s why we loved him coming out of Cincinnati.”
After Sunday’s game, Ridder said he felt like he did his job coming in as a backup, but it wasn’t up to him to decide whether he should start.
Beyond the quarterback decision, concerns plague the defense as well. The unit gave up 371 total yards on Sunday, failing to contain dynamic plays like quarterback Kyler Murray’s late-game, 13-yard scramble and tight end Trey McBride repeated, seemingly easy receptions as he put up 131 yards. The Falcons are also tied at third-to-last in the league in interceptions (5).
Inside linebacker Kaden Elliss said a combination of letting the game breathe, reflecting on the past 10 weeks of play and putting in extra work will help the team come out of the bye week stronger.
Left tackle Jake Matthews said there’s no formula to making corrections, but being honest helps.
“The only way I have ever known is by being really honest with yourself,” Matthews said. “(You) find things to improve on and work on them during the week. (You) bring something extra during the week.”
Smith said he plans to evaluate matters like when and when not to be aggressive against opponents, working with his staff to assess their process.
Why is Smith encouraged entering the bye week? He said a stretch of losses shows the real culture of a team, and he believes in the Falcons’ locker room. It would be different if morale was low, Smith said, but he said that’s not the case in Atlanta.
“The results are what they are,” Smith said. “But there’s true evidence that we can right this thing. Even if you’re three games back, the last seven games matter.”