For variables unknown, Smith kept the not-quite-hurt Ridder on the bench against Minnesota, which soon was down to a No. 4 quarterback so new to the team he hadn’t taken a practice snap. Joshua Dobbs led his latest club to 21 second-half points. It was among the worst losses in Falcons annals, which is saying something. But wait.
Sunday’s debacle in the desert might have been worse.
Remember the skill players these Falcons have amassed under Smith, who made his reputation as an offensive coordinator with Tennessee? Remember imagining what fun he’d have with Kyle Pitts (4th overall pick in 2021), Drake London (8th in 2022) and Bijan Robinson (8th in 2023) to deploy as O’s versus a bumfuzzled opponent’s X’s?
Here’s how many yards Smith’s offense mustered against Arizona: 254. Longest gain from scrimmage: 18 yards. Average yards per snap: 3.9. The Falcons’ net passing yardage: 70.
We pause for emphasis.
SEVENTY YARDS PASSING!
That’s this club’s lowest total since Dec. 16, 2007, when a team that just saw its franchise quarterback sentenced to prison and its head coach bolt for Arkansas netted 29 passing yards in a 37-3 loss at Tampa Bay. Matt Ryan started 232 games for this franchise over 14 seasons. Only once did he fail to net 100 yards, and that day — Nov. 11, 2009 — he had an excuse. He got hurt on the first series and didn’t return.
So maybe you’re saying: “What difference do yards make? Wasn’t Smith’s team positioned to win Sunday?” Well, yes – but only after Heinicke tweaked his hamstring and Ridder cobbled together a touchdown drive abetted by a generous pass interference call. And then, when Ridder himself scored, there came the moment that defied belief.
The Falcons arrayed themselves for a 2-point conversion at the 2-yard-line. Ridder threw to London, who was shoved out of bounds short of the goal line.
Let’s go over that again. Needing 2 yards to score 2 rather important points, you complete a 1-yard pass for 0 points. Are you SERIOUS?
Ordinarily we’d view a bye week as time for the coach to think of something. The more Smith thinks, the worse this gets. For two weeks, he started a quarterback he didn’t trust to throw the ball downfield. Smith did this at the expense of a quarterback who had, for all his growing pains, led the Falcons to 4-3 and first place in the NFC South.
We assume being 0-2 in Heinicke’s starts will end this misbegotten experiment. (Also, he has a sore leg. Also, he has completed 55.4% of his passes; among QBs who’ve started two games, only P.J. Walker has done worse.) Ridder has the higher upside — Heinicke has no upside — but we wonder about his self-image: “You benched me for Taylor Heinicke?”
As bad as this has gotten, the Falcons are one game out of first place in the world’s worst division. There should be no reason they can’t make the playoffs. Then we review the past three Sundays: Lost to Tennessee, now 3-6; lost to Minnesota, somehow 2-0 with Dobbs; lost to 1-8 Arizona. Playoffs, huh?
It’s a funny old world. Smith didn’t trust Ridder to start against the Vikings and Cardinals. And yet, with Heinicke’s injury, the blundering coach might have blundered into a reversal that saves the season and, not incidentally, his job.
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Falcons vs. Saints, Nov. 26, 1 p.m., Fox, 92.9