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'I'm a team player': Quarterback Desmond Ridder stands strong after being replaced as starter by Taylor Heinicke again

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith opted to name Taylor Heinicke the Week 16 starting quarterback rather than Desmond Ridder. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Desmond Ridder repeated himself, multiple times, for the second time this season.

Ridder was benched, again, in favor of Taylor Heinicke. Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith made the formal announcement Wednesday, naming Heinicke the Week 16 starting quarterback over Ridder.

And though he was no longer technically required – Heinicke, as the starter, conducted a press conference at the podium – Ridder still addressed the media during open locker room, answering each and every question with full answers rather than short remarks.

"That's just who I am," Ridder said. "Like I told you guys last time, there's many different ways you can take this and there's many different styles of personality that people can portray. But I'm a team player. Whoever is going to help out the team, I want the best for. Whether it's energy or whatever it is, I'm not going to come out here moping around, be sad about it.

"Because like I said, too, I'm so blessed to be in this position of where I'm at. I still woke up today, drove into the facility of the Atlanta Falcons."

Ridder entered the 2023 season as Falcons QB1. He maintained that title through Week 8, but after halftime of that loss to the Tennessee Titans, Heinicke took the field. Ridder was evaluated for a head injury at that time, but was cleared as the third quarter began.

Then Heinicke was handed the ropes for Weeks 9 and 10. Both were losses.

After the Week 11 bye, Ridder was called upon to resume his responsibilities as starting quarterback.

"Me and Des have a great relationship," Heinicke said. "We talk through stuff, and we're there for each other. Him being that young and kind of going through this type of year, it would be tough. I know in my position my second year in the league it would mess with me a little bit, so just making sure I'm there for him. He's handled it really great."

Ridder rattled off back-to-back wins after the bye, then back-to-back losses.

The final straw was last Sunday's rain-soaked loss to the Carolina Panthers, who are 2-12 now. The Falcons were defeated, 9-7. Ridder threw a fourth-quarter interception that set up the Panthers' game-winning drive.

Unsolicited, Ridder called that moment the dumbest play of his career.

"I knew it when it happened," Ridder said. "I knew that was just dumb in that type of weather. That was obviously one that as soon as it left my hand, I wished I could have had it back."

That pick marked Ridder's 10th interception this season. He has also lost six of his 11 fumbles. The turnovers, he knows, are unacceptable and likely a huge part of why he has been pulled.

Like Heinicke noted, the 24-year-old Ridder is only in his second season in the NFL. Ridder was a third-round draft pick in 2022 and played as backup to Marcus Mariota as a rookie until the final four games of the season. The 2023 schedule was supposed to be Ridder's first full-go slate, and that has not been the case.

"The journey is not over for Desmond," Smith said. "You look at the history of this league, there are plenty of quarterbacks (in different roles). But where we're at right now as a team, we feel like Taylor gives us the best chance right now."

Ridder and Heinicke found out about the switch Monday afternoon. That night, they hung out and both attended the offensive linemen's Christmas party. Each enjoyed it.

Nobody would have blamed Ridder for not being in attendance after learning about his demotion. A reporter even noted that to Ridder during his interview.

That's when his patience was tested.

"Look, I don't know how many times I have to tell you: At the end of the day, this isn't an individual game. It's a team game. I'm a team player," Ridder said. "Those are my boys that I've worked in blood, sweat and tears with for the past two years. Any day I'm going to be able to go and have the privilege to hang out with them -- go to their house or whatever it may be -- I'm going to do it. I love all those guys like they're my brothers."

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the Indianapolis Colts.

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