We've got the first Bair Mail in more than a week. That might be a record for the largest mailbag gap since I've been here. Hope you understand. We had the bye, and then a real hectic week.
Not sure if you've heard, but the Falcons made a quarterback change. It hasn't really be in the news or a hot topic within the fan base or anything, so I thought I'd make sure you knew. Ha.
Desmond Ridder will make his first NFL regular-season start on Sunday in New Orleans, a meaningful contest that will keep the Falcons in the NFC South race or push them too far back for realistic contention. Or maybe something in between if the rest of the division continues to lose. Who knows in this odd division.
Let's get to your questions which, in no shock whatsoever, center around the quarterback situation:
Mike S from Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Do you think four meaningful games will be enough time to see if he is the future? I hope he is, but we probably need to know before the draft if we are going to be on the QB carousel next year. Absolutely beyond excited to see what he can do - S/O to Tori, we should start calling him "The Ruckus."
Bair: You need a larger sample size to know that for certain. Anyone can get red hot, or start ice cold, and then go the other way. Falcons will be looking intently at Desmond Ridder's game tape, going over it with a fine-tooth comb, looking for signs of how he operates the offense, how he works under pressure and how he responds to mistakes.
I also want to see if he has the clutch gene. When it's 3rd-and-15 or whatever and an important drive is on the line, can he make a good throw? He won't win every moment, maybe not every game but is he learning? The bigger question here: does he deserve more time? Unless it's a disaster, the answer to that question should be yes. I think it will be yes, given Ridder's collegiate track record , arm talent and commitment to the craft.
All that will influence where on the offseason priority list quarterback falls. If Ridder does well, it might be in the middle or closer to the bottom. They'll have to add at least one. When that happens and how much that costs (in dollars or draft capital) will tell more than any coach will ever say about what they thought if Ridder's four games at the helm.
Jim R from Roanoke, Va.
Ok simple question. Did MM get mad and quit the team because he was demoted?
Bair: Hey Jim. Thanks for the question. I have a really tough time using the word "quit" in this situation. Marcus Mariota has never proven to be that type of guy. He has a strong reputation as a good leader and team player. And, frankly, we don't know if he was dealing with something silently that needed to get fixed more urgently that he was letting on. There's no way Mariota was happy about a demotion – who would be? –but going from pissed to quitting is a major leap I'm not willing to make.
Having Mariota as a resource in the meeting room probably could've helped Ridder. But the bottom line is that we don't have all the facts regarding Mariota's injury status, because the guy who's injured hasn't spoken about it. Instead, we'll defer to what Arthur Smith has said about it.
Here's Smith from Monday, on his discussion with Mariota about a merit-based quarterback switch:
"Well, I'm in a different role, obviously, Mike Vrabel was the head coach then and that's a head coach's decision. I was a coordinator, so it was a lot different this time around—a completely different set of circumstances. Those are never easy for any position, certainly for something as high profile as a quarterback who gets the most attention. Obviously, aware of that as well but you try to be truthful, and whether they agree or not, those are conversations that you have to have and that's what we did and we had it in person Thursday morning."
Here's Smith from Wednesday regarding Mariota have surgery during the season despite never showing up on the injury report.
"Look, we're not going to play this game of 'gotcha. It's pretty common in this league, a lot of guys in this league have things and things come up, it's a rough sport. Things come up and those are things that happen in pro football. A guy has an issue, you go see a doctor—that's what happens. I'm telling you what I have—he went to see a doctor, he's got a procedure scheduled and he's going on IR. It's the way it goes, we've had a lot of guys, CP [Cordarrelle Patterson] went on IR, Elijah Wilkinson goes on IR, you've got those spots now to return and it's pretty common around the league. Our focus now is the guys that are healthy and that are going to be active. We've got to be ready to go play a division game."
Bill Whitten from Killen, Ala.
Scott, would you rather reach the playoffs, get eliminated in the first round and have a pick in the 20's for the first round of the draft or not make the playoffs and have a top 10 pick?
Bair: That Herm Edwards adage is always, always true in my book. You play to win the game. That's it. Full stop. I get the logic that a better draft pick could influence a team longer than a few extra wins that don't land you in the postseason, even though I don't like it. I don't get the logic that a postseason berth paired with a first-round exit isn't as good as a higher draft pick.
The Falcons should and will push to win as many as possible over these last four and try to end up on top. I believe they'll have to win out to get to the playoffs, but they're still in it after losing for of five because the NFC South keeps them in it. A solid push would mean the Falcons end on a high note, with a quarterback you feel good about moving forward and a better foundation than the team is credited for. It'll take solid performance from some younger players to get there, and those contributions also have you feeling you're not that far away with tons of cap space to use in free agency.
So, in sum, always go for it. If you come up short, okay. If you surge and get in, never apologize for that.
The guys put in the work in Flowery Branch to prepare for this week's game against the New Orleans Saints.