Falcons' Arthur Smith sticking with Desmond Ridder as QB1

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said Desmond Ridder is still the team's starting quarterback after two starts in which Atlanta reached the end zone just one time.

Ridder, who has started the past eight games for the Falcons, threw interceptions on back-to-back plays in Sunday's 23-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and also lost a fumble late in the game.

"There's a fine line between always jerking the wheel and making a guy more hesitant, and you got to make the best decision for your team going forward," Smith said Monday. "If you think that the biggest issue is making a change, then that's what you have to do. Nobody's going to sit there and do the same thing over and over. That's, whether it's true or not, that's one of the definitions of insanity.

"You understand that. You don't want to be stubborn that way. And then there's the fine line, you objectively look at it and now you're talking about putting it all on one person. There's a lot of things that go into it. If you didn't think he gave you a chance, you didn't have evidence of it, that'd be a problem."

Smith said how Ridder handled the second half, in which Atlanta had a drive culminating in a touchdown pass to Drake London, showed him he has resiliency. Smith also didn't see hesitancy from Ridder in the second half, another gauge he used to see how Ridder handled the pressure.

Ridder finished Sunday 19-of-31 for 191 yards with the touchdown, two interceptions and a lost fumble. He was also sacked four times. He's had four turnovers in the past three weeks.

Ridder said Sunday he did a "terrible job taking care of the ball."

But Ridder has also played better as games have gone on, with his best quarter typically being the fourth quarter. Ridder has completed 66.7% of his passes for 341 yards in the fourth quarters of games this year with no touchdowns and no interceptions.

"If it's hesitancy, I don't care what position you play," Smith said. "In any high-performance job, high-pressure job, you start to get hesitant, bad deal. So, you found out after some real adversity what he was about."

Ridder has completed 62.2% of his passes this season for 744 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. He also has 14 carries for 47 yards and one touchdown.

Smith spent most of his 20-plus-minute news conference Monday discussing Ridder while often going to what he says is the offense's biggest problem -- starting fast. On Sunday, Atlanta ran six plays in the first quarter, gaining 5 yards with two three-and-outs.

The Falcons have not run more than three plays on any first drive of a game this season -- three three-and-outs and one interception from Ridder. It's been a weekly lament from both Smith and Ridder that they have been unable to get into rhythm earlier.

For instance, in the first quarters of games this year, Ridder is 14-of-21 for 98 yards and one interception, averaging just 2.29 yards per dropback. He's also taken more sacks in the first quarter -- six -- than he has in the entirety of the second halves of games -- five.

Smith said he's looking at things Atlanta is doing schematically as well as some of their playcalls to try and not continue to start slow on offense. Atlanta's defense has been good early in games -- allowing one touchdown over four games. Atlanta has been outscored by seven points in the first quarters of games and 21 points in the second quarters of games.

Ridder has been part of that -- and Smith said it's a different situation this year, when the Falcons went from Marcus Mariota to Ridder after 13 games, than this season. Veteran Taylor Heinicke is Atlanta's backup quarterback this season.

When he was asked if the Falcons don't start winning games if a change would potentially be imminent, Smith didn't rule it out.

"When you're not winning, everything's on the table," Smith said. "That's your job, to make decisions. The ultimate goal is to win."

Smith, in the same answer, once again pointed to his team's consistency and trying to find a way to not fall behind during the first halves of games, creating more pressure situations late for the 2-2 Falcons.

One thing that could help is tight end Kyle Pitts. On Monday, Smith acknowledged Pitts is somewhat working his way back from knee surgery, which ended his 2022 season. Pitts has 11 catches for 121 yards and no touchdowns this season and only one game with more than two receptions.

Smith said Pitts is "getting close" and thought some of what he did Sunday against Jacksonville looked like Pitts as a rookie, when he became the second tight end in NFL history to have over 1,000 receiving yards and made the Pro Bowl.

"There's no perfect timetables, but there's certain things that you see him, that he's doing really well right now," Smith said. "And there's certain things that, again, it's been a journey back that he's going to get there."