The legendary Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy once said ‘if you listen to the fans, you’ll end up sitting with them.’ In this case, however, the fans’ prayers were answered.
Sunday afternoon, Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith told everyone that would listen that Desmond Ridder would be the starting quarterback. But, after suffering a tough 28-23 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, Smith read the room and announced he’d start Taylor Heinicke this week against the Minnesota Vikings.
During the first half, Ridder was sacked at the Atlanta 34 yard line by Tennessee’s Jeffrey Simmons. Simmons also forced a fumble and it was recovered by the Titans. There were collective groans by fans rocking the red and black that made the drive to Nissan Stadium. Social media would once again beg for Smith to make a change at QB.
Ridder would be checked for a concussion at halftime. Even though he was cleared by the Independent Neurological Consultant, Smith stuck with Heinicke.
Ridder has completed 65.4% percent of his passes for 1,701 yards. He’s thrown six touchdowns and six interceptions. However, Ridder has thrown inopportune interceptions (let’s be real, when has throwing an INT ever been opportunistic) and has had trouble holding onto the ball against Washington, Tampa, and Tennessee.
Plus, Ridder leads the NFL in giveaways with twelve and has ten turnovers in the last five games.
“We’re not looking at the long-term right now,” Smith said during Wednesday’s press conference. “Right now, we’re focusing on Minnesota, obviously, with Taylor. There were a lot of variables (when deciding to switch from Ridder). … Really, our focus is short-term and what gives us the best chance Sunday with everything being considered.”
In relief of Ridder, Heinicke ignited the Falcons’ offense, completing 12 of 21 passes for 175 yards and one touchdown.
With everything considered, the Falcons currently lead the NFC South because they are 2-0 in the division.
“You get into moments in the season where things come up,” Smith continued. “(Heinicke) is a legitimate pro. That’s why we like him. He goes in there, and it’s not an easy job coming out of the bathroom and being told, ‘Hey, here’s the ball. Go play.’ But that’s what makes Taylor who he is and why we have a special appreciation for him.”
For those that are unfamiliar, Heinicke is somewhat of a hometown hero. He lettered at Collins Hill High School in Gwinnett County and later at Old Dominion. He came to fame while playing for the Washington Commanders. On March 13th, he hit the market and the Falcons immediately signed him.
“The biggest thing is you just prepare like you’re starting,” Heinicke said. “I remember my first four, five years, I never saw the field. I was kind of the third-string guy. I didn’t even dress on game day. But you practice being a starter by preparing like you’re a starter. Then, when your time comes, you know how to prepare. That’s helped me in the past.”
Heinicke now takes the helm for a team that still has all its goals in front of them. The only thing Falcons fans want is stability.
The Falcons will face off against the Vikings this Sunday at 1:00 PM inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium.