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Bair: Why Desmond Ridder's fourth-quarter comeback vs. Cardinals gave game more meaning

ATLANTA – Desmond Ridder took the field with five minutes remaining and one thought in mind.

Go down and score.

That's the objective every time, but the edict was mandatory in that situation, with the Falcons down and running out of opportunities to get back up.


Nerves didn't factor into his feelings despite such high stakes. Even if they did, Ridder would never show it. The offense feeds off the quarterback, and he was set on projecting confidence.

"You want to let them see that you're calm and composed and ready to execute," Ridder said. "That's going to filter off to the other guys and they're going to want to execute better. Sometimes it's about being poised. I think guys feel that."

Ridder was calm, cool and collected. He was also clutch.

The rookie quarterback led the Falcons over 67 yards to set up Younghoe Koo's game-winning walkoff field goal as time expired. He completed all three of his pass attempts on that drive, including a gotta-have-it completion to MyCole Pruitt on 3rd-and-7.

He was instrumental in a 20-19 win on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the first positive result in more than a month. When the Falcons needed it, Ridder came through. That was the biggest among several encouraging signs in Ridder's third NFL start.

"You can make a lot of stats in quarters 1-3 but, if you want to be a big-time quarterback," head coach Arthur Smith said, "you need to win on critical third downs in two-minute situations and go win the game like he did right there."

This game didn't mean much in the big picture. It was a clash of teams already eliminated from playoff contention, playing out the string.

This experience, however, was invaluable for a young quarterback and the franchise's confidence in him.

Ridder's reputation as a gamer preceded his time here. He regularly performed well under pressure in college, taking the Cincinnati football program to great heights. That's why it's hard to consider his fourth-quarter comeback a revelation.

While comeback attempts didn't work out in previous weeks, Ridder was on point in those scenarios. That was the case in New Orleans, where a Drake London fumble got in the way. They were too far back for a real push in Baltimore, but he seemed to get better as that game progressed.

Smith and GM Terry Fontenot are looking at every piece of evidence these four Ridder starts provide, trying to decide where quarterback fits on the offseason priority list. Moments like Sunday's finale will be viewed as a positive point on his ledger, even while conceding the Cardinals aren't a good football team.

Ridder is developing before our very eyes, with improvements big and small clear from one game to the next. While he's super far from perfect and hasn't single-handedly created an explosive passing attack, there's so much that has improved under his brief tenure.

"I thought his pocket awareness was really good," Smith said. "He extended some plays and got us out of some things. That's what you want to see. If you want to be a real starting quarterback in this league, you have to be able to do that."

He's running the offense like a veteran and doing lots of little things right. That's all well and good, but this is a results-based business and sometimes the little things matter less when you lose. A quarterback is ultimately charged with one thing: Go out a win us a game.

Ridder did that on Sunday. There's plenty to dissect and decipher from this event, but the biggest mission was accomplished. Ridder was at his best when it mattered most and he got the Falcons a win.

"It's just about finishing, doing whatever you can to win," Ridder said. "I'll go back and look at the game this week and see what I could've done better and keep continuing to try to get better."

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Arizona Cardinals during Week 17.

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