Falcons QB Taylor Heinicke (hamstring) exits early in loss

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Taylor Heinicke slowly limped out of the Atlanta Falcons locker room early Sunday evening after his team lost to the Arizona Cardinals 25-23, making his way toward the bus on the pulled hamstring that knocked him out of the game in the fourth quarter.

And he might have put in flux -- or potentially answered -- Atlanta's quarterback conversation.

Earlier this week, Falcons coach Arthur Smith said they would use the bye week to evaluate the starting quarterback spot for the rest of the season after Heinicke replaced former starter Desmond Ridder over the past 2½ games. After Sunday's loss -- Atlanta's sixth in its past eight games -- Smith said the performances of both Heinicke and Ridder against the Cardinals will play a role in the decision-making process.

Heinicke completed 8 of 15 passes for 55 yards and a touchdown while being sacked three times and rushing four times for 34 yards. Ridder came in early in the fourth quarter, after Heinicke got hurt, and completed 4 of 6 passes for 39 yards and rushed three times for 11 yards, including a go-ahead touchdown with 2:33 left to give the Falcons a 23-22 lead.

"It definitely had an effect," Smith said. "We got to make a decision. Des did a nice job coming back out there. I thought he kind of reset and, confident in him. You know, if he had to come in the second play of the game, the way he prepared.

"He didn't flinch. He made some [plays], gave us a chance to win."

Sunday created almost a reversal of what put the Falcons in this quarterback quandary to start with. In Week 8 against Tennessee, Ridder left the game at halftime after being evaluated for (but cleared from) a concussion. Heinicke came in and played in the second half and then was given the next two games -- eventual losses to Minnesota and Arizona -- as the starter.

"I thought we moved the ball pretty well in the first half," Heinicke said. "Scored some points when we got in the red zone, took care of the ball. So that's everything we've been working on.

"But it wasn't good enough."

Smith said Heinicke's numbers might have looked a little different because Atlanta wanted to focus on running the ball early and maintain long possessions. The Falcons did that, scoring touchdowns on two of their first three drives. In the third quarter, though, Heinicke led four drives that resulted in a total of minus-2 yards before the injury early in the final quarter.

Ridder said he was "a little stiff" when he realized he was going back into the game but immediately took snaps with center Drew Dalman while trainers looked at Heinicke.

"My job was to come in and be the backup to Taylor," Ridder said. "And then be ready to go, and I feel like I did my job in that aspect."

What stood out to Smith -- who did not say whether he has made a quarterback decision -- was how Ridder handled the play that led to his 9-yard touchdown. It's a play Ridder ran successfully multiple times when he was the starter, a zone read, and he again used it with success.

When Smith was asked whether Heinicke had shown enough, the coach ended up discussing what might end up being decision markers for both quarterbacks.

"Look, the first half, and every plan is different. We felt really confident in the way we wanted to run the ball and we did early," Smith said. "They made some adjustments and we got off track, so it's not all on him. So, Des came in, I mean, it's unfortunate Taylor pulled his hamstring extending a play. He made some play extensions on some pass plays early that led to touchdowns, kept drives going.

"We'll look at everything, but it's definitely encouraging seeing Des come back in there. He's settled, he was very confident. If he wasn't, he wouldn't have pulled the ball [on the zone read] right there. I can tell you that. That play will tell you a lot because if you don't want the ball in your hands, it would be real easy to hand it off. So that's one assessment I can give you, just stating the obvious."

After going 2-6 in the past eight games, Smith said the Falcons are going to "look at everything" over the bye week. He said they know they need to make adjustments with seven games left, although the team will not be making staff changes. Though the Falcons are 4-6, they are only one game back of the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South and play them in Week 12.

"We're going to put everything we have humanly possible to do our job better and go win this division," Smith said. "And that's all we can control. It's unfortunate and [frustrating]. You got to look at everything and that's what we'll do, that's our plan going into the bye. So it's coming at the right time for us. We need to reset and we'll be ready to roll."