Falcons to start QB Taylor Heinicke vs. Colts; Desmond Ridder benched for second time in 2023

Arthur Smith will make another quarterback change as the Atlanta Falcons attempt to save their floundering season.

The Falcons will start Taylor Heinicke in Sunday’s contest against Indianapolis, sending second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder back to the bench, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per a source informed of the situation.

The Athletic first reported the move.

It’s the second benching of Ridder this season, who Heinicke replaced as the starter in Weeks 9 and 10 — both losses. The second-year signal-caller regained his starting job after replacing an injured Heinicke late in the contest and nearly the comeback.

Alas, the same struggles that plagued Ridder early in the season persisted. In Sunday’s woeful 9-7 loss to the two-win Carolina Panthers, Ridder was inconsistent throughout the contest and threw an atrocious red zone interception that led to a loss that plummeted the Flacons’ playoff chances.

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The positive flashes from Ridder have been few and far between, and the 16 turnovers, tied for fifth-most in the NFL, have been brutal, with six of them coming in the red zone. Ridder has been particularly poor on the road, where he’s completed just 59.4 percent of his passes for 162.6 yards per game as a road starter in his two seasons.

After the latest benching, the question is whether it signals the end of the Ridder experiment in Atlanta.

Heinicke didn’t exactly shine in his two starts, completing 54.72 percent of his passes with two TDs and an INT while taking four sacks in the back-to-back losses. At this point, Smith is grasping at anything that can spark a late-season surge. Heinicke is a gunslinger who could help open the offense but will also put the ball in harm’s way at times.

The Falcons face the Colts at home on Sunday, then travel to Chicago and New Orleans to close the season.

After making moves in the offseason aimed at getting back to the postseason in a winnable NFC South, the faceplant in Atlanta has put Smith’s future in question. Desperate coaches seek out any move they can to jumpstart a stalled operation. For Smith, that was giving the ball back to Heinicke. If it doesn’t work, we could see an overhaul coming to Atlanta in 2024.

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