Falcons held back by Desmond Ridder’s inconsistency

Three interceptions in home loss to Washington
Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) watches the Washington Nationals celebrate their win against the Falcons 24-16 on Sunday, October 15, 2023, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. 
Miguel Martinez/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) watches the Washington Nationals celebrate their win against the Falcons 24-16 on Sunday, October 15, 2023, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.  Miguel Martinez/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder has played OK most times this season. Ridder was awful against the Jaguars in London two weeks ago. He was very good in a victory over the Texans last week. Then Ridder was back to being bad on Sunday against the Commanders.

Ridder had three interceptions in the 24-16 loss at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Falcons trailed by eight points when Ridder threw an interception in the end zone with five-plus minutes to play. The Falcons got one more chance to tie the game, but Ridder threw another pick.

“Honestly, that’s tough to go out there and put up that showing,” Ridder said.

The Falcons are 3-3. They started 2-0 with two close victories. Then they lost two games in a row by lopsided margins. The Falcons won a close game against the Texans and then lost a close game to the Commanders. They are an up-and-down team because they’ve got a hot-and-cold quarterback who didn’t give them a chance in their past two losses.

The Falcons decided to go all-in on Ridder as the starter for this season. They used most of their player acquisition resources to improve the defense and get Ridder another playmaker, Bijan Robinson. The defense is much better and Robinson is one of the top rookies. But Ridder’s inconsistent play at the most important position is holding back the Falcons.

Ridder can be good on one drive, like the one that got the Falcons within a touchdown of the Commanders with 12:38 to play. Then he’ll make a backbreaking mistake on the next one. See the interception in the end zone that ended the best chance for the Falcons to force overtime and the pick that secured Washington’s victory.

That’s six interceptions in six games for Ridder this season against six touchdowns. Defenders have (unofficially) dropped four other potential interceptions. Not all those plays were entirely Ridder’s fault, but the bottom line is that he’s put the ball in jeopardy way too many times.

Falcons head coach (and offensive play-caller) Arthur Smith hasn’t helped Ridder lately. The quick passing game has had diminishing returns. The Commanders jumped two of Ridder’s quick passes for interceptions. The Packers and Jaguars did the same thing.

And sloppy game operations put Ridder in some bad situations against the Commanders. Before Ridder’s interception in the end zone, the Falcons had a delay of game that tuned a third-and-two into a third-and five. During the final drive, Ridder spiked the ball on second down, but Smith had to call a timeout before third down to avoid a delay of game penalty.

The Falcons had trouble with late substitutions, tardy play calls by Smith and general confusion.

“That hasn’t been an issue,” Smith said. “It happened today. That’s obviously not good enough. It’s not ever on one person.”

Ultimately, the head coach is responsible for smooth game operations. Smith’s Falcons had the kind of persistent issues on Sunday that you usually only see at the high school level or below. The mismanagement hurt them during the comeback attempt, along with Ridder’s decision making.

After the Falcons scored the touchdown that made their deficit 24-16, the defense forced a three-and-out by the Commanders. The Falcons moved from the 11-yard line to a first down at Washington’s 32-yard line. A roughing the passer penalty moved the Falcons to the 16. Tyler Allgeier’s 11-yard run set up a first-and-goal.

The Commanders helped the Falcons with another penalty. A neutral zone infraction made it second-and-goal at the 2. The Falcons gave that gift back with a delay of game penalty that pushed them five yards back.

“It’s not going to be good enough when you do stuff like that, those self-inflicted wounds,” Smith said.

The Falcons had plenty of time to get to their next play but there was just one second on the play clock when they snapped the ball. It was an important play that felt rushed from the start.

When Ridder dropped back, two Washington defenders quickly got in his face. Wide receiver Drake London broke to the back of the end zone as Ridder passed to the front, where Benjamin St-Juste was waiting to make the interception.

“Trying to make a play,” Ridder said. “We got a miscommunication between myself and Drake.”

The Falcons’ defense gave Ridder another chance by forcing Washington to punt for the fourth straight time. The Falcons started at their seven-yard line with two minutes to play and one timeout. Ridder completed five consecutive passes to set up a second-and-one at Washington’s 34-yard line.

Ridder spiked the ball to save the final timeout. Smith ended up using it, anyway, to avoid a delay of game penalty. Ridder tried passing to Robinson. Commanders linebacker Jamin Davis saw it coming. His interception sent the Falcons to their first home loss in three games.

Ridder (and Smith’s) struggles caused the Falcons to waste a good defensive effort. They trailed 17-10 at halftime, but the Commanders scored both of their touchdowns with short fields. The first came after Jamison Crowder returned a punt 61 yards to the 11. The second followed a failed fourth-down conversion by the Falcons at Washington’s 48-yard line.

The Falcons got the ball first after halftime. They needed a score or, at the very least, not put their defense in another bad position. The Falcons made it just 20 yards before Ridder reverted to one of his bad habits.

Ridder dropped back to pass while looking in Van Jefferson’s direction. Kendall Fuller became the latest defender to easily read Ridder and anticipate the quick pass. Fuller intercepted the ball at midfield and ran to the 27-yard line. The Commanders scored two plays later on Brian Robinson’s 24-yard catch-and-run.

Ridder’s best moments came during a 12-play, 81-yard touchdown drive that got them back in the game. He scrambled 13 yards for a first down and completed three passes that moved the chains. One of them was a heave to Michael Hollins for seven yards on fourth-and-four. Jonnu Smith finished the drive with a two-yard TD catch that made Atlanta’s deficit 24-16 with 12:43 left.

The Commanders didn’t seem to have much urgency to score on their final two full possessions even though they led by just eight points with five minutes left. They probably figured they could give the ball back to Ridder with no real danger of him leading the Falcons to a touchdown and two-point conversion. The Commanders were right about that.

They aren’t the only ones who can see that Ridder’s inconsistent play is holding the Falcons back.