ATLANTA (AP)Arthur Smith’s response to his first postgame question regarding Desmond Ridder was quick and strong.
“Pretty damn good,” the Atlanta Falcons’ coach said Sunday of his quarterback’s performance in the win over Houston.
Smith could have added Ridder’s showing also was important for the quarterback and the team.
Ridder’s play lifted the performance of his teammates, including tight end Kyle Pitts and wide receiver Drake London, casting a more optimistic outlook on the season.
The 21-19 win over the Texans doesn’t place the Falcons (3-2) in conversations with San Francisco, Philadelphia or Detroit as the most impressive teams in the NFC. But the win does provide hope the Falcons can end their streak of five consecutive losing seasons and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Thanks to Ridder’s career-best 329 yards passing, the Falcons at least temporarily shed their image as a run-first – or even run-only – offense. One week after his three turnovers in a loss to Jacksonville made his hold on the starting job appear shaky, Ridder had no turnovers while passing and running for touchdowns against Houston (2-3).
Ridder’s passing yards were the most by an Atlanta quarterback since Matt Ryan’s 371 in Week 6 of the 2020 season. Ridder completed 28 of 37 passes. The numbers were not as important as the poise he showed while completing each of his five passes in Atlanta’s game-winning drive.
Ridder, who had been 4-4 in his first eight career starts, played like a winner in the most impressive two-minute offense Falcons fans had seen since the heyday of “Matty Ice.”
Smith said “it takes a special mindset” to be a winning quarterback and added Ridder has that.
The coach, perhaps seeking to manage his own exuberance, added “We’re not going to take any victory laps.”
The victory lap can wait. For now, it’s enough to suggest the Falcons’ first selection in the 2024 NFL draft may not be a quarterback after all.
One 300-yard game from Ridder may not be enough to convince defenses to stop loading the box against Bijan Robinson and the Atlanta running game, but it was a start.
Just when fantasy managers had given up on starting tight end Kyle Pitts and wide receiver Drake London, the two joined tight end Jonnu Smith to give Atlanta three players with at least six receptions and 60 receiving yards for the first time since Week 1 of 2020 (Russell Gage, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley).
Even fullback Keith Smith somehow found his way downfield for a 28-yard grab that Ridder said may have been his favorite pass of the game.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
There were no sacks in the game. That was a statistical oddity. Unfortunately for Atlanta, poor sack production – a long-time weakness – continues to be the norm. The Falcons have only five sacks through five games, good for a last-place tie in the NFL with the New York Giants.
Pitts and London share honors. Pitts was targeted 11 times and had seven catches for 87 yards. London had nine targets and six catches, including a 23-yarder that was the biggest play on the game-winning drive.
With Ridder showing more willingness to throw downfield instead of relying on shorter passes, Pitts showed flashes of his 2021 rookie form in perhaps his best game since hurting his knee last season. London played strong when making catches in traffic.
Tyler Allgeier averaged 2.4 yards while gaining 40 yards on 17 carries. He has averaged 3.1 yards for the season, a sharp drop from his 4.1 average as a rookie in 2022, when he ran for 1,035 yards. Allgeier will continue to have ample playing time as the complement to Robinson, though Cordarrelle Patterson’s role could grow as the versatile option as a running back, wide receiver and return specialist after missing the first three games with a thigh injury.
The Falcons could face some uncertainty on their offensive line this week after right tackle Kaleb McGary suffered a knee injury in the third quarter. Storm Norton, who took over for McGary, would be the likely replacement.
2: Robinson has scored two touchdowns in his first five games. While the rookie running back has been explosive and dynamic as expected while averaging 5.4 yards with his runs, his only scores have come as a receiver. Robinson, who often lines up wide, at times with Allgeier at running back, already has 21 catches for 146 yards while rushing for 364 yards.
The Falcons will try to end a two-game losing streak against Washington when the Commanders visit Atlanta next Sunday. Washington took a 19-13 home win over the Falcons on Nov. 27, 2022, and leads the all-time series 17-10-1.
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