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Bair: Desmond Ridder's costly mistakes negating good things he has done

The Falcons young quarterback has had positive moments in 2023, but a high turnover count muddles his evaluation, raises questions about Falcons' long-term answer at QB1.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Falcons secured a first down inside the red zone with roughly nine minutes remaining, well within Younghoe Koo's field goal range.

They were in solid position to eat clock and expand slim lead. A kick through the uprights would force Carolina to score a touchdown to beat Atlanta in a rain-soaked Week 15 contest at Bank of America Stadium.

"You're in scoring position and hoping to (at least) get a field goal," head coach Arthur Smith said. "It changes what you've got to defend. The dynamics are completely different. That's not what happened."

After a run for no gain, something far worse came to pass. Quarterback Desmond Ridder made a critical mistake that was the turning point in a 9-7 Panthers victory on Sunday. The loss put the Falcons season in big trouble.

Atlanta was in a good spot nearing midway through the fourth quarter. The mission on 2nd-and-10 was to play it smart, minimize risk and come away with at least three points. Ridder did something different.

He took a snap from the 18-yard line and rolled to his left, as instructed, with Marquis Haynes Sr. in hot pursuit. Ridder avoided getting tripped up in the backfield and then got a block from KhaDarel Hodge that would've allowed him to run for a minimal gain.

But, as he approached the sideline, Ridder cocked and fired.

"I was trying to get (the pass) back inside," Ridder said. "Any time you're throwing late over the middle, it's probably not a good idea. I was trying to make a play, and I tried to do too much."

He tried to get a chunk play when retaining possession was his primary job requirement in that moment. Ridder had Kyle Pitts well covered on the left sideline, Drake London too far to the right and Cordarrelle Patterson deep with a few defenders in between.

The pass ended up going right to Carolina safety Xavier Woods at the Panthers 5-yard line.

Ridder dropped to his knees after the play and looked despondently toward the sky. He and the Falcons knew that moment spelled trouble.

"We turned the ball the over late," head coach Arthur Smith said. "You do that, and you lose."

That they did.

After the interception, the Panthers marched 90 yards down field on 17 plays and beat Atlanta with an Eddy Pineiro field goal as time expired. The Falcons loss, combined with wins by the Buccaneers and Saints, puts Atlanta behind in the NFC South standings and primary tiebreakers with three games to play.

While the loss doesn't completely hang on Ridder, his red-zone turnover was the pivot point. This is not the first time that has been the case either, with too many winnable games ending up as losses due to mistakes from the quarterback spot.

Above all else, inconsistency in all facets as been an problematic and costly to the Falcons this season.

"I mean, obviously, that's what we're trying to eliminate," Smith said. "And we've been trying all season. And I think what's hurt us the most is clearly the turnovers."

The Falcons had a minus-2 turnover differential against Carolina, in a game where inclement weather made field position and mistake-free football vital.

Ridder has made too many mistakes too often this season. He has 10 interceptions and 11 fumbles in 2023. He has 16 total turnovers, including six in the red zone. He has also turned the ball over twice inside the Falcons 20-yard line this season.

Those are high numbers that can negate much of the good he has done this season. It certainly puts a question mark on his overall evaluation, as the Falcons determine whether he's the team's long-term answer at quarterback.

There's possibly a short-term answer to be debated as well. While the plan has been to start Ridder the rest of the season, Smith wouldn't commit to a quarterback moving forward after the Panthers loss.

"There's a lot of things -- nothing's ever set in stone," Smith said. "You've got to evaluate and adapt. Just like the questions you're asking about personnel and what you got to do, we got to find a way and we need to win."

There are times when Ridder has put the Falcons in position to win, even if the end result wasn't that. He has come through in the clutch several times, but he has also hurt his team in crucial moments.

"I feel like there are times when it's great and times when it's not great," Ridder said. "You just have to eliminate those not-great times. If you go out and take care of the ball, move the ball and put points on the board, you're doing pretty well. I feel like I've done that at times. At other times I haven't, and I've put myself in a bad position and one for the team as well. You have to be better and execute."

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers during Week 15.

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