Bradley’s Buzz: The Falcons don’t have a QB controversy - at least not yet

In the grand scheme, it’s fortunate Taylor Heinicke’s final series Sunday ended with the Falcons going four-and-out. Imagine if he’d engineered a game-winning drive.

Speaking of Desmond Ridder, coach Arthur Smith said: “We didn’t take him out for performance issues.” Meaning, presumably, that Ridder – who was checked for a concussion but cleared – will be the quarterback when next the Falcons play. That means the team doesn’t believe it has a QB issue. That said …

There’s no NFL issue like a QB issue. Even if Smith’s support is unwavering, Ridder’s self-esteem might not be.

Much of nurturing a quarterback is seeing him through the bad days, which are inevitable for all QBs. If you’re Patrick Mahomes (who had one Sunday), you file and forget. If you arrived as a Round 3 pick in a down draft for quarterbacks, votes of non-confidence in the public sector – social media isn’t always sociable – can render the most difficult job in sports borderline unbearable.

Ridder has 11 turnovers – six fumbles, five interceptions – over the past six games. He has been sacked 25 times this season. Though seven games, the Falcons averaged 16.3 points, down from the 21.5 of last season. Of the 23 they scored in Sunday’s loss, 20 came after Ridder exited. The 23 marked the Falcons’ biggest output in six weeks.

Ridder has led game-winning drives in each of the Falcons’ four victories. Those victories came against teams with an aggregate winning percentage of .321. To say that Ridder has looked mostly OK is to grade on a curve. He has looked OK against a bad schedule. Over two games against plus-.500 opponents, he led the Falcons to one touchdown.

After 12 NFL starts, Ridder has neither passed nor flunked his audition. The sacks indicate he’s holding the ball too long in the attempt not to throw an interception. The fumbles are a function of, um, holding the ball too long. The turnovers have become a big deal. The Falcons are 14th in yards gained, 28th in points scored. Why? Because they’re tied for 30th in turnover margin.

Behind Heinicke, they scored on four of six drives Sunday. Behind Ridder, they’d scored on one of seven. There’s a reason they’re paying Heinicke $7 million. (Owing to his draft station, Ridder makes around $1M.) The proven backup is a prudent insurance policy in a league where every opponent’s aim is to hit your quarterback.

Go back to those two words, though – “proven backup.” Heinicke is 30. He has made 25 NFL starts. He has been around long enough to know what not to do. (Don’t turn the ball over, mostly.) Were he the answer to any team’s dreams, he wouldn’t be working for his sixth franchise.

Ridder’s upside mightn’t be as high as Mahomes’ – or even Will Levis’, who threw four touchdown passes against the Falcons and was available 33 picks into the 2023 draft – but it’s higher than Heinicke’s. Had the Falcons believed Ridder wasn’t up to the task, they’d have tried harder to acquire someone who is.

Assuming Ridder is healthy, there’s no percentage in not starting him. The Falcons are 4-4. They’re tied for first in the NFC South. They should win the next two – Minnesota here, Arizona there. Then comes their bye week. Then the Saints come here.

This season isn’t yet on any brink. If Ridder doesn’t cut back on turnovers, if the offense continues to sputter … then Smith will have cause to bench him for performance issues. Turning to Heinicke now would indicate the franchise has lost faith in the guy in whom it spent 10 months expressing full confidence.

The last thing any team in any season needs is a quarterback controversy. The Falcons aren’t there yet. They should do everything in their power to keep from landing there, not least because teams that can’t find a quarterback tend to become teams in search of a new coach.

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