ATLANTA -- There was never a doubt what the first question to Arthur Smith would be after the Falcons 19-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at home. Smith knew it was coming, too.
The question: Will you be making a change at the quarterback position?
The answer: Well, Smith didn't say, "Yes." But he also didn't say, "No."
"It's a unique time when you're getting ready to go into the bye," Smith said. "We will evaluate everything. Everything. Every job."
That, of course, includes the quarterback job.
Sunday's answer to this question is quite different than it's been for Smith, who's been asked about the Marcus Mariota/Desmond Ridder situation before. Take Smith's postgame press conferences after the Falcons Week 10 loss to Carolina for example.
Reporter: Did you consider going with Desmond Ridder at any point tonight?
Smith: "No. We're trying to win a game. We got the ball back with a chance to go win it or tie it at the end. Our guys kept swinging. There's a lot of things that we got to do better and it starts everywhere. It starts at the top with me and there's a lot more that goes into quarterback play than just stats. We got to protect better. We got to do everything better. You got to give Carolina credit."
Reporter: Could there be a quarterback change moving forward?
Smith: "I know those are the popular narratives. Those are the easy questions to ask. As a whole football team, we have to do a better job starting with myself. We look every week to make sure that we have the right guys in the right spots. Like I said, we've got to protect better. We've got to play the run better."
Reporter: Just to be clear, do you anticipate Marcus Mariota being the starter next week?
Smith: "Guys, you can make it about the quarterback. How about the team? We've had an opportunity at the end of the fourth quarter the last two weeks. In a lot of different ways and a lot of different phases, we've got to get better."
There wasn't blame directed at Mariota in Smith's responses, but there was deflection away from him. What about the team? Smith said. We have to run the ball better. We have to protect better. We - as a team - have to be better. That was Smith's take three weeks ago.
Even when he was asked about the quarterback "situation" in the days that followed the loss to Carolina, Smith said without hesitation that, "there is no situation."
Since then, though (and with the bye week approaching), the answers to these questions have shifted.
When asked about the quarterback position this time around, Smith didn't deflect to the run game, or the line of scrimmage or the defense, and that's telling.
He may have been vague, but that vagueness is different than what he's been publicly before when fielding questions about Mariota, Ridder and the quarterback position as a whole.
"We just finished the game," Smith said after the Falcons loss to the Steelers. "But obviously, we have some private thoughts. We need to decompress. We need to meet as a staff. There are a lot of things where sure we've been close, but we have to evaluate everything. We have to get back over the hump, get back in the winning category."
"There's a lot that needs to be evaluated, talked about, discussed. I understand the questions right now, but the game just ended. The bye is coming at a good time for us."
It's that last sentence that you should emphasize, because later he did elaborate.
"It'll be good to take a step back," Smith said. "There will be changes made. We have to look at everything."
Now, when you read this quote, do not take it out of context. Smith wasn't saying changes will for sure be made at the quarterback position. He was referring to the whole team in the context of this quote. But the quarterback? It's a part of this team. So, when Smith says, "Every option is on the table," the quarterback is included.
As for Mariota himself, he finished the game completing 13-of-24 passes for 167 yards, one touchdown and one game-icing interception. It was a game in which the Falcons only made it to the redzone twice, never doing so at all in the first half. The Falcons were 3-for-10 on third downs. It could be argued this was their least productive offensive games of the season.
When asked if he'd understand if Smith went another direction at quarterback, Mariota said he wasn't in that type of mindset immediately following the game.
"That's not necessarily where my mind is at," Mariota said. "You're still trying to reflect on what happened during the game. At the end of the day, they (the coaching staff) have to make a decision that's best for the team. Whatever happens, happens. But I'm not really thinking about that right now."
Since the Falcons Week 6 win against the 49ers, they have not scored more than 20 points in five of their last seven games. They have lost all five. Three of those five losses were in one-score games.
Smith said the Falcons are playing too many games in the -teens, and, "that's not what we want," he said.
That's why, again, "everything is on the table."
"We have to get over this hump," Smith said. "We gotta look at everything because we have to get back to the other side of winning."
So, yes, the question has to be asked: Will the Falcons make a change at quarterback because of all of this?
If a change is going to come before their next game against the Saints in New Orleans, they do have a bye week to decide. There is time to do what Smith says, which is to evaluate every position, the quarterback position especially.
But, there will come a point when the Falcons are out of time to decide within the scope of this season if they do indeed have a quarterback on this 2022 roster they can realistically see leading the franchise into its next chapter.
It took the Falcons too long to get going offensively against the Steelers on Sunday. They ran out of time to make anything significant happen. They let an entire first half and majority of the third quarter tick away before making a productive move to the endzone.
As the regular season comes to a close in another month's time, can they afford to let the clock strike zero when it comes to the quarterback position and its future? That's what this staff has to decide in the coming days.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Pittsburgh Steelers during Week 13.