Falcons again benching Ridder at QB as Heinicke moves up as starter against Colts


ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons are removing quarterback Desmond Ridder from the starting job for the second time this season following his continued turnover woes in the team's latest loss.

Taylor Heinicke was listed as the starter in the updated depth chart released by the team on Tuesday for this week's game against the Indianapolis Colts. The change was not a surprise.

Ridder threw an interception in the red zone to set up Carolina's game-winning scoring drive in the Panthers' 9-7 win on Sunday.

The loss knocked the Falcons (6-8) out of first place in the NFC South and raised new questions about coach Arthur Smith's job security in his third season.

The Falcons have suffered back-to-back losses to division rivals Tampa Bay and Carolina, leaving the team fighting long odds to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

Smith said Monday he had not made a final decision on the starting quarterback this week, but it appeared clear he was leaning toward again replacing Ridder.

The Falcons were 4-4 and tied for first place in the division when Ridder first lost the starting job on Nov. 1. Following two losses with Heinicke, Smith reinstated Ridder as the starter, saying the second-year quarterback gave the team its best chance to win.

Smith said he wanted to avoid “musical chairs” at quarterback but now finds another change necessary as the Falcons cling to fading playoff hopes.

“You have to evaluate everything as you’re going through the film,” Smith said Monday. "There’s a lot that goes into it. Same thing as being the head coach. We all have to be accountable. There’s a great responsibility. That’s what you sign up for.

"There’s a lot that goes into that. There’s also a lot that needs to go right around the quarterback, too. Working through it, but we ultimately have to make the best decision for this team so we can go win this game on Sunday against Indianapolis.”

Ridder has thrown 10 touchdown passes with 10 interceptions and 11 fumbles. The latest change atop the depth chart could be the next step toward the team looking for help at the position in the offseason, through a trade or the NFL draft, either with Smith or another coach.

“That’s not what you want with a team,” Smith said of the series of changes at quarterback. “That’s usually not a great situation to have. You want to be fair and objective. Obviously, give people an opportunity. There was a belief in him, and no matter what happens, doesn’t mean anybody’s career is over, but we have to do what’s best for this team right now.”

In three games, including two starts, Heinicke has completed 41 of 74 passes for 498 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

Ridder completed 12 of 20 passes for 152 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the loss to Carolina.