Bradley’s Buzz: The clock’s ticking on the Desmond Ridder experiment

Desmond Ridder has started eight NFL games. His team has won half of those. He hasn’t stunk out the joint every given Sunday. He has, on occasion, looked capable. The gulf between “capable” and “proven” is vast.

Ridder isn’t immensely gifted. If he were, he wouldn’t have been available with the 74th pick of the 2022 draft. (Boilerplate counterpoint: Tom Brady, Pick No. 199 in 2000.) Ridder isn’t Patrick Mahomes or Joe Burrow or Josh Allen. He mightn’t be C.J. Stroud or Anthony Richardson or Bryce Young. All six were top 10 picks. All fit some profile of a franchise quarterback, which isn’t to say the latter three are locks to become franchise QBs.

The Falcons opted to amass Round 1 skill players – Kyle Pitts, Drake London, Bijan Robinson – and make do with a game-managing QB. This made some sense. In 2022, after the Falcons had, albeit inadvertently, moved on from Matt Ryan, only Kenny Pickett went in Round 1. By the time the Falcons picked this April, Stroud/Richardson/Young were gone.

After last season’s final four games, the read on Ridder was that he deserved a longer look. The longer we’ve watched this season, the less we’ve been seen. His completion percentage the past three games is 58.3. He has thrown two touchdown passes against three interceptions. He has averaged 6.2 yards per pass. He has been sacked 12 times. He has lost two fumbles.

His passing rating the past three weeks: 79.8 against Green Bay, 72.2 in Detroit, 62.7 versus Jacksonville. This is a disturbing dip, though – we say again – that might prove the most arduous stretch of this pillowy schedule. The back-to-back interceptions Sunday marked Ridder’s NFL nadir. To his credit, he didn’t throw another. For a moment, he had his team positioned to cut what was a 17-point deficit to a field goal.

If you’re a game manager, you’d better ace the managerial part. Maybe you don’t do the spectacular stuff, but you keep drives alive and the chains moving. The Falcons made their second first down 20 minutes into Sunday’s game, by which time they trailed by 10, soon to be 17. That’s game mismanagement.

The team with Pitts, London and Robinson has scored one touchdown in two weeks. (To be fair, London came within a toe-tap of a make-this-a-game touchdown with six minutes left Sunday.) It has been years since we could say this, but the Falcons’ defense looks stout. It’s the offense – Smith’s offense, as managed by Ridder – that isn’t up to snuff.

This isn’t to suggest the offense is doomed to dormancy. It’s a young bunch with a young QB. The season has 13 games to run. The Jaguars’ offense – as overseen by the Super Bowl-winning Doug Pederson and the legendary prospect Trevor Lawrence – mustered 13 more yards than the Falcons’. The NFC South leader is Tampa Bay, which surely won’t last.

The frustration with being 2-2 after starting 2-0 is understandable. Calls for Taylor Heinicke to displace Ridder are inevitable. But Smith saw enough in Ridder to give him a chance, and the Falcons aren’t out of anything. Fun stat: They’re 24th in total offense – just behind Tampa Bay and New Orleans, just ahead of Carolina. They’re peas in a pedestrian pod.

The weakness of the division, however, cuts both ways. The Falcons can’t write off Year 3 under Smith to QB training. They need to win. They’ve had three consecutive top 10 picks. They loaded up in free agency. They can wait a while longer on Ridder. They can’t wait forever.

Opponents are doing to Ridder what’s done to all fledgling quarterbacks: They’re making him beat them. He needs to beat somebody. If he can, we’ll all shut up. If he can’t, there’s Heinicke. Then there’s the 2024 draft.

The above is part of a regular exercise available to all who register on for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Buzz, which includes extras like a weekly poll and pithy quotes, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Go to the home page. Click on “Choose from a variety of newsletters” at the top. Click on “Sports Daily.” You’ll need to enter your email address. Thanks, folks.