Falcons coach Arthur Smith plans to stick with Marcus Mariota at quarterback

Many Atlanta Falcons fans hoped the coaching staff would use the mini-bye after last Thursday’s loss to Carolina to prep rookie quarterback Desmond Ridderfor his first action.

Nope.

Head coach Arthur Smith said Monday he plans to stick with Marcus Mariota under center.

“There’s no situation. There was never a situation, ever,” Smith insisted when asked about the QB situation.

“You understand why the questions get asked,” Smith added. “You lose two games in five days and everybody wants to panic. We’re right in the middle of it. We’re not where we want to be, but the reality is we’re right in the middle of a playoff race with a conference opponent coming in here — a game we need to win.”

Frankly, were it not for a gifted overtime win against Carolina in Week 8, we’d be talking about four consecutive defeats, not just two in five days.

Mariota hasn’t just struggled in recent games. It’s been weeks since he looked anything close to an NFL-caliber passer. Yes, his rushing ability opens things up for an offense that wants to pound it on the ground. But when the Falcons get in must-pass situations, Mariota has been a liability of late.

The QB has one game above 250-plus passing yards, and it took him OT to get there in Week 8. Mariota has 12 touchdown passes to seven interceptions. Last week he was abysmal when the Falcons got down, throwing a bad pick, and making some boneheaded plays.

The calls for Ridder have grown louder and louder, but Smith has resisted entertaining even the possibility of seeing what the rookie could do.

“If we we’re going to make a change, I’d tell you,” Smith said. “…Everything is up for grabs every week. If we felt that one move would certainly be the difference in us winning and losing, we’d make it. We’re not at that point at a lot of spots.”

With the Falcons sitting at 4-6, a game behind the Bucs in the division, Smith likely doesn’t want to bench a QB while still in the hunt. Maybe a few more losses could change his mind.

One thing has become clear, though: Mariota isn’t the future under center.

That reality necessitates Atlanta finding out if Ridder might be the guy at some point this season before using a first-round pick on another young QB. The longer Smith waits, the more the sample size dwindles, and the more diluted the situation becomes — as we’ve seen from the likes of Davis Mills and Drew Lock in previous seasons showing promise as rookies against soft schedules before bottoming out.

Unless Smith and his staff have already decided based on practices that Ridder isn’t good enough to be an NFL starter, it’s time to see what the rookie can do.

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