ATLANTA (AP)When Matt Ryan waved to an appreciative Atlanta crowd from the broadcast booth, it was a reminder of a time when the Falcons didn’t have any concerns at quarterback.
That’s no longer the case.
A half-dozen games into what is supposed to be his first full year as the No. 1 quarterback, Desmond Ridder hardly looks like the guy who will lead the Falcons to a brighter future.
Another mistake-filled performance by Ridder cost Atlanta (3-3) a chance to claim the NFC South lead, though coach Arthur Smith also deserved a healthy dose of second-guessing for the haphazard way he ran things on the sideline.
Ridder’s three second-half interceptions essentially handed a 24-16 win to the Washington Commanders, who had lost three in a row.
It also marked the second time in three weeks that Ridder has committed three turnovers in a game.
Through six games, he’s got six touchdowns and six interceptions. Those numbers simply don’t add up to being a successful NFL quarterback, and Ridder sounded a bit out of touch by trying to put a positive spin on things.
“There’s a lot of things that went wrong in there that we have done right in the past that we just did wrong right there,” Ridder said. “There are things to learn from that I think will only make us better.”
It will be interesting to see how long the Falcons – especially owner Arthur Blank, who has made it clear he expects his team to make the playoffs after five straight losing seasons – will allow Ridder to learn on the job.
The Falcons have Taylor Heinicke, who started 25 games for Washington, sitting on the bench. And they surely have their eyes on who might be available heading into the 2024 season.
Ridder’s first pick set up the Commanders at the Atlanta 27, leading to the touchdown that made it 24-10. His second came on a desperation heave into the end zone, costing the Falcons a chance to at least try a field goal. His final interception came in the final minute on a short pass in Washington territory, ruining any shot of going for a potential tying touchdown and 2-point conversion.
The Falcons lost on a day when they dominated the Commanders in total yards (402-193), nearly doubled them up in first downs (25-13), and held a nearly 13-minute advantage in time of possession (36:23-23:37).
Watching from up above was Ryan, who served as an analyst on the CBS broadcast crew.
When “Matty Ice” was shown on the video board during the first quarter, many in the crowd stood to salute a 14-year tenure in Atlanta that included an MVP award, a Super Bowl appearance, four Pro Bowl selections and nearly 60,000 yards passing.
Then, it was back to watching the mess he left behind.
The revamped defense is living up to expectations, looking very much like a unit that is good enough to take this team to the playoffs if it gets any help from the offense.
All three of Washington’s touchdowns benefitted from short fields. A 61-yard punt return left the Commanders only 11 yards from the end zone. Failing to convert on fourth down at the Washington 48 led to the second touchdown. Finally, Ridder’s second interception put the Commanders in business at the Atlanta 27.
The Falcons also sacked Sam Howell five times, their most in a game in nearly three years.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Smith made some truly baffling calls on the sideline, most notably his decision to attempt a 2-point conversion after the Falcons scored a touchdown to make it an eight-point game with nearly 13 minutes remaining. A run from the 1 came up short after a pass interference penalty on the first attempt gave Atlanta a do-over.
Smith stood by his call on Monday after pointing out that he did the same thing in two games last season.
“Whether you believe it or not, it increases the odds of winning in regulation,” he insisted. “It’s not a traditional football thing … but we did it. We went for it, and you have to live with the consequences.”
Just as troubling were the breakdowns in getting play calls from Smith, who also serves as de facto offensive coordinator, to Ridder.
On third-and-goal from the 2 with under six minutes to go, the Falcons were called for delay of game. Ridder was intercepted on the next play.
Then, after spiking the ball at the Washington 34 to stop the clock with 31 seconds remaining, Atlanta was inexplicably forced to burn its final timeout to avoid another delay penalty. Ridder’s final pick followed.
“That’s on all of us,” Smith said. “We have to get better.”
WR Drake London had nine catches for 125 yards, which were both career highs for the second-year player.
TE Kyle Pitts hauled in his first touchdown catch since Oct. 30, 2022.
Ridder. Ridder. Ridder. And Smith.
At least the Falcons got through the game without any major injury concerns.
100 – DE Calais Campbell became just the sixth active player and 41st overall to reach triple figures in sacks.
After a favorable early schedule, which included four of their first six games at home, the Falcons are on the road the next two weeks at Tampa Bay and Tennessee.
While neither opponent is especially daunting, Atlanta has lost eight straight away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Falcons’ most recent road victory came at Seattle on Sept. 25, 2022.
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