GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Here's what we know: The Falcons gave Taylor Heinicke the start at quarterback against the Vikings and Cardinals in Weeks 9 and 10 of the 2023 season.
Head coach Arthur Smith attributed the decision to a number of unnamed "variables" when pressed over the last two weeks. Heinicke came in for starter Desmond Ridder in the second half of the Falcons Week 8 loss to the Titans. At the time, Ridder was evaluated for a concussion. He was cleared to return to the game but didn't. Ridder started the first eight games of the season for the Falcons.
We also know that Heinicke left Sunday's 25-23 loss against the Cardinals with a hamstring injury to begin the fourth quarter. He never returned to the game. Ridder played the remainder of the game at quarterback.
Ridder connected on 4-of-6 passes for 39 passing yards as the reliever. He also rushed for 11 yards, one of which was a 9-yard, go-ahead touchdown.
So, this is what we know. But here's what we don't know: We don't know where the quarterback conversation in Atlanta goes from here.
Smith said in the week leading up to the Falcons game in Arizona that Atlanta would not play "musical chairs" when it came to the quarterback position. The plan was to use the bye week as a way to reassess the plan for the future of the signal caller in Atlanta. Whoever the Falcons planned to play against the Saints in Week 12 is the person they would stick with, barring injury, of course.
How much will the Falcons most recent loss to the Cardinals change things?
Perhaps more than originally thought upon first look.
Smith is right, too, there are a number of variables to consider, even if he chose to keep said variables private. However, there are a couple more variables to consider now than there were before. For starters, the Falcons now have to consider Heinicke's injury and how serious it could or couldn't be.
Then, there's what Ridder was able to do in relief.
"Des came in and he did a really nice job," Smith said postgame. "He gave us a chance."
The head coach said Ridder was "settled" and "confident" for the Falcons when he got the chance to see the field of play again.
What Ridder and Heinicke were asked to do in the game was different, though, according to Smith.
For Heinicke, the Falcons came into the game with the full intent to run the ball and do so often. Though Heinicke only finished his day 8-of-15 through the air for 55 passing yards and one touchdown, Smith said Heinicke was playing within the game plan set for him. The Falcons didn't go into the Cardinals game wanting to air the ball out all game. Smith commended Heinicke for extending plays when he could.
Then, there's Ridder, who Smith praised for coming in and working from behind with the Falcons down 21-17 to start the fourth quarter. Smith said he liked what he saw from Ridder on his touchdown run, a 9-yard zone read that he kept in his own arms for the six points. This is the fourth time Ridder has scored on this specific play call (it would have been five if he wouldn't have fumbled the ball out the endzone against Tampa Bay in Week 7).
"If he wasn't (confident), he wouldn't have pulled the ball on the (touchdown) play. I'll tell you that," Smith said of Ridder. "That play will tell you a lot. If you don't want the ball in your hands it would be really easy to hand the ball off. … He wasn't living in his fears because that was the same play the ball popped out in Tampa."
When asked if he felt like he did enough to warrant a return to the starting quarterback spot, Ridder was frank.
"That's not really my decision," he said. "My job was to come in and be a backup to Taylor and be ready to go. I feel like I did my job in that aspect."
Smith did say, though, that Ridder's performance late "definitely" has an effect on the decision moving forward. Just what that decision will be — Ridder or Heinicke — is still to be decided as the Falcons regroup during the bye week.
If anything, the loss to the Cardinals made the path ahead more convoluted in the short term.
View photos of the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Arizona Cardinals during Week 10.