NEW ORLEANS -- Before Desmond Ridder ever took his first snap for the Falcons in Sunday's 21-18 loss to the Saints, Arthur Smith wanted to make one thing clear to the young quarterback. On Saturday, Smith told Ridder this game - regardless of its outcome or Ridder's performance in it - is a step in his journey, not the final destination.
"I told Desmond yesterday whether he threw for 400 yards or he threw for 100 it wasn't going to define his career," Smith said. "There's a lot to learn from. The thing is that I saw him operate, procedure-wise, he had a lot of command. The next step is we have to continue to find solutions and make more plays."
Ridder finished his first NFL game 13-of-26 through the air. His 50 percent completion rate kept him three yards shy of surpassing 100 passing yards on the day. He was sacked four times.
In terms of production, there is much to improve. That much is obvious.
In what has become a theme for this 2022 Falcons team, the run game outpaced the pass game creating a lopsided offensive attack. Tyler Allgeier should have been the story of the game, what with his first 100-plus rushing yard day. But inefficiencies in the pass game and a slow defensive start kept eyes focused elsewhere.
When thinking back on the game immediately following its end, Ridder broke down the game through his vantage point. When asked what grade he would give himself, Ridder said a C-minus or a D.
Ridder - like most rookie quarterbacks in their first starts - came out a little too hot and amped. He tried to connect on a few deep passes early, only to miss the mark. That was the first thing Ridder said he hopes to improve upon. It's what immediately stuck out to him as something he will go back to.
He tried to be too perfect early, he said, and Smith added he could feel Ridder pressing. The quarterback said it wasn't until after the Falcons first drives that he settled in.
"In that first drive you have the emotions, you have everything going," Ridder said. "You get out there and you want to be perfect and go down on the first drive, 75 yards and score a touchdown. Obviously, that's not how it went."
No. It wasn't.
Instead the Falcons went three-and-out, and they didn't find much offensive success in the first half at all, not scoring their first touchdown until the start of the second half. By that point, the Falcons had gotten the run game going, which Ridder and Smith said took the pressure off the pass game at times.
"(Tyler Allgeier) is not a speed guy but when you hand the ball off you expect that he's going to make that one guys miss. It's going to take more than one guy to tackle him and bring him down," Ridder said. "That's almost a security for (me) to kind of hand the ball off and just know that he's going to get positive yards."
That security blanket - along with some key defensive stops - did allow the Falcons to stay in the game, but ultimately not pull it out.
So, the Falcons lost.
It's important to note, though, that this start for Ridder was as much about evaluating where he's at as well as what he can do as it was anything else. So, what did the Falcons learn about Ridder?
For starters, Smith said he learned that Ridder is "not afraid of the moment."
"He came out amped up but as he settled in he corrected that," Smith said. "That's a step in the right direction."
Something Smith really stuck on postgame was Ridder's command of the huddle. The Falcons - as a team - were only penalized three times through all four quarters. Not a single one of those three penalties were procedural on the part of the offense, nor were they pre-snap penalties. That's a testament to Ridder according to Smith, and players in the locker room, too.
"He came into the huddle confident and clear in his communication," Chris Lindstrom said of Ridder. "We could hear him. Operationally, he was great."
And it's true. The Falcons were always lined up where they were supposed to be. The play call got in on time and with clarity. The problem with Ridder's first start didn't stem from any miscues pre-snap. It was all about the lack of execution in the pass game, post-snap.
Smith said, too, that the instincts with Ridder are there.
When it comes to how the Falcons move forward with him it's about refining him, not changing him. The intangibles are there. The rest of his game - particularly accuracy in the pass game - just needs to catch up.
In terms of problems to have, there are worse ones.
"He's not scared of the moment, "Smith reiterated. "He was poised. And it wasn't perfect in a lot of ways, we'll look at the tape, but I like what he's made up of."
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints during Week 15.