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What Desmond Ridder learned watching from the sidelines before he returned as starting quarterback 

Ridder started the first eight games of the season, and now he regains the starting position in Week 12. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Last season Desmond Ridder made his first start after the bye week against the New Orleans Saints. This Sunday will look fairly similar. The Falcons face the Saints coming off the bye, and Ridder will play his first game since regaining his starting position on Monday.

But the two games couldn't be more different.

It's not just because Ridder was a rookie making his NFL debut in a hostile environment like the Superdome, and Sunday will mark his 13th start. It's also unique because of what he's learned in the last few weeks watching from the sidelines.

"He's done a really good job of that and has taken advantage of what can be perceived as a major negative," head coach Arthur Smith said Monday, "and try to turn it into a positive for not just the short-term, but for the rest of his career."

Ridder started the first eight games this season and four in 2022, after he took over the position late last year from Marcus Mariota. For the last two games and change — including a second half in the Week 8 loss to Tennessee — Taylor Heinicke led Atlanta's offense.

Ridder got a chance to learn from Heinicke in productive way. Ridder picked up on Heinicke's communication style when working with Smith and Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone. Heinicke had a more open approach collaborating about what worked for the veteran quarterback and what didn't.

"It kind of clicked in my head something that might be a little different or something that might help," Ridder said.

Now heading into the Week 12 game, Ridder has adopted that practice working to be more open in meetings as he continues to grow and find his own style.

Ridder also observed the overall energy of the team throughout the games he watched from the bench. He noted lulls on the Falcons' sideline underscoring its importance as the Falcons ride a three-game skid in the loss column.

"If everyone's just locked in for 60 minutes on all sides of the ball, all phases, playing fast playing with speed playing physical — I think you'll see a very dominant Atlanta Falcons see out there," Ridder said.

The Falcons have a crucial stretch upcoming where they'll face every divisional opponent in a tightly contested NFC South over the next four games and another showdown with New Orleans in Week 18.

"We have everything in front of us. We still have the division in front of us," Ridder said. "We have everything we want to get in front of us."

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder #9 looks on during warmups prior to the Week 10 Game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on Sunday, November 12, 2023. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

Despite taking a back seat for a few weeks, nothing changed about Ridder's routine. He still led a weekly players-only meeting with quarterbacks and pass catchers. He still loudly reminded teammates by calling out the time of the meeting over and over in the locker room. In sum, he still prepared like a starter.

When Heinicke was named QB1 for two games, he encouraged Ridder quarterback to keep that same energy.

"I told him everything that he was doing when he was starting, keep doing it," Heinicke said prior to the game in Arizona, "Running the meetings, everything, because as a young quarterback that goes a long way, and I think that's going to help him in the long run."

It also helped in the short-term, when Ridder stepped in for Heinicke in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals after Heinicke went down with a hamstring injury. The Falcons lost in a close game, but Ridder came in and played with confidence. He rushed for a touchdown on a similar play that led to a turnover before Ridder lost the starting job.

Since Smith announced Ridder as the starter for the remainder of the season, he repeatedly commended Ridder for how handled the shuffling quarterback situation.

Smith said moments like that can make or break someone professionally.

"Everybody wants to get in front of the parade when it's going well," Smith said. "When it's not, you gotta realize how fortunate you are to do what you love. You find out what you're really made of, who you are."

For Ridder, that means continuing to play without hesitation, not overthinking and sticking to what's got him this far.

"It's a challenge every single day, not only in football but in life as well," Ridder said. "It's just not what happens when you get punched, but how quick you're gonna get back up and keep going."

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the New Orleans Saints, presented by Fast Twitch.

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