Bradley’s Buzz: The Falcons were awful Sunday, but 14 Sundays remain

It could have been worse. The Falcons could have blown a 17-point lead, as happened to Sean Payton’s former team, or yielded 70 points, as happened to Payton’s new team. Still, this was bad. For those expecting the Falcons to compete in Detroit, Sunday brought a thud.

The team laden with skill players averaged 2.8 yards per play. It averaged 3.1 – ouch! – per pass play, which counts sacks, of which there were seven. The Falcons breached the Detroit 20 once. They scored no touchdowns.

The Falcons managed 183 yards. That’s the second-lowest total over 37 games under Arthur Smith, who’s supposed to know a bit about offense. The lowest was 165 against New England on a Thursday in November 2021.

We wondered what would happen if these Falcons couldn’t run the ball. We wonder no longer. Desmond Ridder threw 38 passes. Only three of his 21 completions gained more than 18 yards; none gained more than 28.

Ridder completed 15 of 18 passes against Carolina in the opener. In the two games since, he has completed 40 of 70. His passer rating against Green Bay was 79.8. Against Detroit, it was 70.3. He ranks 23rd among NFL quarterbacks in that category. He’s 25th in completion percentage and yards per pass. He has two touchdown passes. (Only one interception, though.)

Nobody has suggested Ridder meets the definition of a franchise quarterback. The Falcons’ hope is that he’s a serviceable QB. (Said Smith on Sunday, speaking of Ridder: “He gives us a chance.”) The Lions were good enough to make the great Patrick Mahomes – 5.8 yards per pass; passer rating of 77.5 – look ordinary in the season opener. They overwhelmed Ridder, who took to holding the ball. Ergo, seven sacks.

But all, we say, is not lost. The schedule leads us to believe the Falcons won’t see anybody as good as Detroit over the final 14 games. Of remaining opponents, only Tampa Bay hasn’t lost, and that could change against Philadelphia tonight. Jacksonville and Minnesota, playoff qualifiers last season, are an aggregate 1-5. Minus Aaron Rodgers, the Jets are down to Zach Wilson. The Saints’ Derek Carr suffered a shoulder injury Sunday.

Not every opponent will take away Bijan Robinson/Tyler Allgeier and put the weight on Ridder, who’s not seasoned enough to find workarounds. The keepers figure it out. Sunday was a failed test. It was not the final exam.

As Smith told reporters afterward: “Thankfully that’s only one (game). There’s some tough lessons learned.”

We recall a different QB suffering similar indignity in his first big road start. On Sept. 14, 2008, the Falcons lost 24-9 at Tampa. Matt Ryan, who’d thrown a touchdown pass on his first NFL delivery the week before, was sacked four times. He threw for 158 yards. His passer rating was 29.6.

That team finished 11-5 and made the playoffs. Ryan was rookie of the year. Of the Falcons’ next 245 games, he started 242. He was a keeper.

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