Falcons have more quarterback questions as they cling to hopes of winning NFC South


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons' season of uncertainty at quarterback will continue through the final week of the regular season.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Monday that Taylor Heinicke, who left Sunday's 37-17 loss to the Chicago Bears with a left ankle injury, will try to return this week.

Even so, Smith said Heinicke's status for this Sunday's game at New Orleans probably will not be known before Friday.

“Obviously, he's going to do everything he can,” Smith said of Heinicke. “We're going to have to monitor that. ... I know Taylor is going to put everything he can into trying to go.”

Heinicke, who has alternated with Desmond Ridder at quarterback this season, threw three of the team's four interceptions in the ugly loss to the Bears. Ridder replaced Heinicke late in the game and threw the fourth interception.

Heinicke, making his second straight start after Ridder was benched for the second time this season, completed only 10 of 29 passes for 163 yards in the game played in snow and windy conditions.

The Falcons (7-9) have lost three of their past four games but can still win the NFC South. If Atlanta wins at New Orleans and Tampa Bay loses to Carolina, the Falcons would win the division.

Heinicke threw for 229 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions in a 29-10 win over Indianapolis on Dec. 24, for one game ending the team's season-long struggles with turnovers. That lasted only one week, as the veteran's three interceptions overwhelmed his positive contributions — a 24-yard touchdown run and his 75-yard scoring pass to running back Tyler Allgeier.

“It’s the same thing from the rest of the year,” Heinicke said after the game. “We turned the ball over, and we can’t do that, especially this team and how they play and this weather. Can’t give them short fields. Can’t turn the ball over. Got to play clean football. There were spurts where we did that, and there were some where we didn’t, so we’ve got to clean it up.”

Ridder and Heinicke have combined to throw 15 touchdown passes with 15 interceptions.

Heinicke hurt his ankle against the Colts and was limited in practice last week. He said he “started to feel a little bit of sharp pain” in the ankle late in the game against the Bears after having his foot stepped on.