CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Arthur Smith knew the question was coming. And as he walked to the podium to face the media after a 25-15 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night, the question came swiftly.
"Arthur, did you consider going with Desmond Ridder at any point tonight?"
In the loss, Marcus Mariota was 19-of-30 through the air for 186 passing yards. He threw one interception and two touchdowns. He was also sacked five times for a loss of 33 yards. It was an offensive performance that started out slow and never fully recovered in the rain-soaked field at Bank of America Stadium.
It was a game that, in the national spotlight and on prime time television via the Thursday Night Football slot, the Falcons offense sputtered.
After the game, Smith came to his quarterback's defense.
Carolina won the line of scrimmage, Smith said. The Falcons defense has to stop the run better, he added. The offense has to protect better, Smith continued.
"A lot more goes into quarterback play than just stats."
And later: "You can make it about the quarterback, but what about the team?"
The whole team, Smith said, has to play better. Never once did Smith single out Mariota's performance in the loss.
When Mariota came to the podium after Smith, though, he looked inward.
"It starts with me," Mariota said.
And later: "I was playing a little bit outside of myself trying to make a play too many times and it hurt our team."
He said he was trying too hard to make a spark happen for an offense that, at times, felt spark-less. It's in those moments, when Mariota is "playing outside" himself, that he often gets himself in trouble. He knows that, and he owned up to that postgame, saying he was trying to force too much on Thursday night.
For what it's worth, though, other offensive players wouldn't let Mariota take the fall for the loss. Just like their head coach, there wasn't a point of the finger to quarterback play.
"We need to be better for the team, better for Marcus, better for each other as a unit," Chris Lindstrom said after the game.
Lindstrom pointed to the Falcons slow start, particularly one that saw Carolina take the run away. The Falcons rushed for only 33 yards in the first half, not at all close to the clip this offense has become known for.
From the outside looking in, it seemed that Carolina made a point to stop the Falcons rushing attack early. It looked as though the defense wanted the Falcons to try to beat them through the air. Smith said that wasn't necessarily the case, that Carolina didn't change up their game plan from the last time they played them to Thursday night.
Mariota and Lindstrom, though, said there were some variations in what Carolina was showing them defensively. It was extrapolated by the Falcons inability to do much about it.
"I thought they started loading up the box," Mariota said. "Unfortunately, when you're not making any plays in the passing game, they can do that. They can get you in third-and-long and it's tough to convert those. We have to do a better job of staying in third-and-manageable, doing a better job on first and second down, especially throwing the football that way we can keep things going."
From Lindstrom's perspective, the slow start almost went deeper than that.
"We obviously need to start better, and it's not so much the yards but you can just feel that it wasn't right," he said. "… You could just tell that something wasn't right, something wasn't clicking. We were talking through it, working through it, trying to make adjustments."
And the Falcons did eventually make those adjustments. By the fourth quarter, though, those adjustments just felt a little too late.
In the end, the Falcons did come back to make it a one-score game in the final minutes. For that reason, Smith said he wasn't planning to make a change at quarterback during the flow of the game on Thursday night. Regardless of what outside perspective is, no one from the team put the blame on Mariota's shoulders.
"In a lot of different ways, in a lot of different phases we've gotta get better," Smith said.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers during Week 10.