ATLANTA -- Four. That's how many games Desmond Ridder had to show the Falcons coaching staff that he was one to bet on in 2023. This season - which ended on Sunday with a 30-17 win over Tampa Bay - was always a bridge to what came next. Nothing depicted that more poignantly than the quarterback position. And after Ridder was drafted by the Falcons with the No. 74 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, he became a part of that bridge.
This season was not the one that would solidify the quarterback position. It could begin to show a direction, though.
After more than a decade in Atlanta, the Falcons moved on from Matt Ryan this offseason. They picked up Marcus Mariota on a two-year deal, and then they drafted Ridder. They had pieces, but would these pieces be a part of the bigger future picture? Well, they had an opportunity in front of them to see.
Mariota served the Falcons well in his role as the starter from Week 1 to the bye week in Week 14. By that time, though, the Falcons playoff hopes were slim and they owed it to themselves to see what they had in Ridder. Could he be more than a bridge in Atlanta? Could he be a destination? He was given four games of play for the Falcons staff to ultimately evaluate.
In said games, the Falcons were 2-2, finishing the year 7-10. Individually, Ridder finished his four-game slate going 73-of-115 through the air for 708 passing yards (224 of those yards came on Sunday). He has a 63.47 completion percentage, and though he was sacked nine times in four games as well as only throwing two touchdown passes, he never threw an interception. The Falcons were also never really penalized for much pre-snap.
More than the totals, though, you actively saw Ridder become more and more comfortable 1) in the NFL pocket and 2) operating within Arthur Smith's offense. From one start to the next, Ridder's stat line only improved, too.
All of this begs the question, though: Did Ridder do enough to solidify himself as the Falcons starter in 2023?
That's not an answer anyone has yet. Heck, the 2022 season just ended for the Falcons on Sunday. With what could end up being around $70 million in cap space available and a top-10 draft pick, the Falcons will do their due diligence in bringing in quarterback competition to push Ridder. Regardless of how Ridder performed through four games, that was always going to have to be the case for Atlanta in 2023.
Ridder has stated his case, though. His second half performance on Sunday showed a true glimpse into what the Falcons could have in Ridder. Though the Bucs had pulled most of their first-team defense, Ridder's precision and production in the second half was what the Falcons need moving forward.
The first half showed a rookie quarterback who struggled in a dirty pocket. The second half showed the potential Ridder has. He started the game 4-for-9 through the air, accumulating just 25 passing yards before halftime. By the end of that game, those yards had jumped to well over 200. In the Falcons seventh and eighth drive of the day (two drives that ended in touchdowns for the unit), Ridder threw the ball 11 times. He connected on all 11.
Ridder's done his part. His four games are up. He's showed what he's got.
Now, it's up to this football staff to decide where they go from here.
"That's not my call," Ridder said of being the starter in 2023. "I am going to go out there and play my game, and do what I do. At the end of the day, I don't care about stats. I don't care about what it looks like. At the end of the day, I want to win. That's who I am as a person. I want to be a winner. I want to be a competitor."
Asked about Ridder's progress and how he evaluates it as the season comes to a close, Smith said he did learn a lot about Ridder and what he can handle through four games. In fact, Smith used the example of making the decision to go for it on fourth and medium around midfield in the fourth quarter. Smith said Ridder in the pocket - and most notably, how he operates in pressure situations - changed his thinking in that moment to ultimately go for it. It was move that paid off, with Ridder connecting with Olamide Zaccheaus for a six-yard pickup.
"I wanted to see him handle that," Smith said. "I thought he did well. When you can do that, when you can win third and fourth down, that says a lot about you to be able to extend plays, look to throw, not get rattled. Not perfect, but we saw a lot of progress."
So, how does this coaching staff go about making decisions about the quarterback position moving forward?
It sounds so cliche, but they really have to evaluate it all. They have to take into consideration what Ridder showed them through four games. They have to account for what they believe he can be with new pieces around him (because yes, there will be new pieces, as well as old, Kyle Pitts will be back in 2023). But they can't (and won't) just sit back, either. They have to evaluate the quarterbacks in the draft class. They have to do the work to see if there's a veteran out there on the market who they like.
Did Ridder win the job after these four games? That's the question. Some would say he has done enough. Others would say not so fast. And in all honesty, he may not have won the job yet. But that doesn't mean he doesn't win it later on when the dust settles after this upcoming offseason.
This year was always going to be a bridge taking the Falcons organization from the Matt Ryan era to whatever came next. As the 2022 season comes to an end, we find ourselves standing in the middle of this bridge. And at this point, we really don't know what the other side looks like. Is Ridder on the other side? There's an argument out there that he is, but the Falcons staff have to make sure.
It's OK to be on the bridge now, but you don't want to be there forever. You have to keep moving in one direction. Perhaps as the 2023 offseason commences, we'll know more about what that direction truly is in Atlanta.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during Week 18.