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Falcons coach Arthur Smith hopes to avoid ‘musical chairs’ scenario at QB amid switch to Taylor Heinicke


Third-year Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith has faced some scrutiny over the past couple of weeks. The Falcons have dropped three of their past four games, and second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder was benched in favor of veteran signal caller Taylor Heinicke.

Ridder was elevated to the starting position for the final four games of the 2022 season and started for the first eight games of this season. He was pulled from a Week 8 matchup with the Tennessee Titans at halftime and Heinicke handled the quarterback duties for the remainder of the game.

Heinicke was then named the starting quarterback for the Week 9 games against the Minnesota Vikings. Heinicke finished the game with 268 passing yards and one touchdown against one interception. Despite suffering a loss, Atlanta scored a season-high 28 points. Heinicke’s performance appears to have given Smith the confidence to continue to have him start — at least for the time being.

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Desmond Ridder #9 and Taylor Heinicke #4 of the Atlanta Falcons warms up prior to playing the Miami Dolphins in a preseason game at Hard Rock Stadium on August 11, 2023 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

The Falcons go on their bye after this week’s matchup with the Arizona Cardinals, which should give Smith and the coaching staff ample time to assess the quarterback situation.

On Wednesdays, Smith said the quarterback decision is “my responsibility and what they pay me for.” He said he doesn’t want uncertainty at the position to continue through the season.

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“So right now, in the short term, we feel where we’re at, everything we’ve got going on right now, we feel Taylor gives us the best chance,” Smith said before adding: “We’re not going to play musical chairs.

“With the bye, hopefully we’ll get this win and can take a second to really evaluate before we make that sprint to the end of the season.”

Arthur Smith argues

Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith speaks to side judge Don Willard (58) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Atlanta.  (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

When asked if having a second game with Heinicke leading the offense will provide enough of an opportunity to make a firm decision, Smith said: “Yeah. Unless something unforeseen or injury happens.”

Smith also acknowledged the importance of this weekend’s game against Arizona.

Chase Young takes on Desmond Ridder

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) passes the ball as Washington Commanders defensive end Chase Young (99) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023, in Atlanta.  (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

“We’ve got a big game in the season coming up,” Smith said. “There’s nothing more important than this one Sunday in Arizona. We’re going to get ready to do everything we can to win this game.”

Ridder committed 12 turnovers — six interceptions and six lost fumbles — this season. He has passed for 1,701 yards with six touchdowns and rushed for 139 yards with three touchdowns.

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Meanwhile, Heinicke joined the Falcons this offseason after starting 24 games the last two seasons with Washington. He signed a two-year deal with the Falcons in March.

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When pressed on the factors he is considering in the quarterback decision, Smith said, “There are some things I will keep private, for better or worse.” He added “maybe I’m overprotective” in guarding those details.

“But yeah, there’s so many things that go into it,” he said. “It’s not all on the quarterback and sometimes it’s the matchups, it’s the way things are trending. I think at the end it will all work itself out the way it should.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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