If they win Sunday in Tampa, they’ll lead the NFC South. If they lose, they’ll be tied for second with New Orleans, which has lost four of five and beaten nobody of worth. Neither have the Falcons, but the schedule is such that only two remaining games will match them against plus-.500 opposition, and the two are really one opponent – Tampa Bay – twice.
Ridder has led two fourth-quarter comebacks, no small consideration. Without victories over Green Bay (by one point) and Houston (two points), this season would indeed reside in yonder trashcan. (The Saints lost to both, FYI.) Through five weeks, the Falcons adhered to form: They won three times at home when favored, lost twice as road underdogs.
Sunday’s dire defeat caused glass-half-full observers to fling said glass at the wall. They were beaten by Washington, which had lost three in a row. The Commanders were outgained by 209 yards, out-first-downed 25-13. Ridder threw three interceptions. Arthur Smith had conniptions on the sideline.
Big “but” here: The Falcons gained 402 yards, 307 coming on Ridder’s passes. They held the ball for 36 minutes, 23 seconds. Analytics indicate they should have scored nine more points, which would have given them 25, which would have been enough to win. They dominated a game they lost.
Graziano makes much of Ridder’s three interceptions, which were of the sort that can’t be unseen. But it isn’t as if Ridder has a history of pickoff hat tricks. Over his first nine NFL starts, he threw three INTs – two in Start No. 8 . He has six this season – one fewer than Jalen Hurts, the same number as Josh Allen, one more than Patrick Mahomes, Tua Tagovailoa and Matthew Stafford.
Ridder is 24th in passer rating. That puts him ahead of eight quarterbacks – Burrow, Pickett, Young, Love, M. Jones, Tannehill, Wilson and D. Jones – drafted in Round 1. Does that make Ridder better than Joe Burrow? Here we LOL. Now we get serious: For a Round 3 pick of 10 starts, Ridder hasn’t performed so poorly as to flunk his audition.
If he throws three interceptions every week, that’s a “fail.” One game, however, does not a trend make. Young quarterbacks do throw the more-than-occasional INT. Allen threw 12 as a rookie. Trevor Lawrence threw 17. Peyton Manning threw 28.
For those who believe the Falcons are “throwing away a season” by not turning to Taylor Heinicke, I’d suggest that has it backward. Heinicke is 30. He has worked for six NFL organizations. He’s a known commodity – good enough to play in a pinch, not so good as to be indispensable.
NFL Films once caught a Falcon employee insisting the three famed letters stood for “not for long.” That’s sort of true – Jerry Glanville’s pearls of alleged wisdom were sort of true – but patience is sometimes warranted.
The Falcons don’t yet know what Ridder is. That’s what this season is about. If he can guide a winning team, they’re set. If not, Katie bar the door. Either way, they need to find out.
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