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'I just want to win': Taylor Heinicke ready for second starting quarterback switch, opportunity of 2023

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said the plan is to have Taylor Heinicke start the final three games of the regular season. 


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Just like the last time he was tasked with this assignment, Taylor Heinicke is prepared to do what is asked of him.

Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith officially named Heinicke the starting quarterback for Week 16 on Wednesday, once again benching Desmond Ridder for the backup. This same thing happened in Week 9.

"Nothing's really changed," Heinicke said. "It's kind of the same thing as before. We come in every day, work together, trying to make each other better. Again, he's still leading the meetings as before. If he misses something up there, I'll chime in and say something. But we have really good relationship and he's been helping me out this week so far."

There are both similarities and differences between this time and last.

As a refresher, the Week 8 loss to the Tennessee Titans came before the first switch. Ridder lost a fumble in the first half and did not return in the second half. Smith said he made the halftime adjustment because Ridder was placed in concussion protocol, but Ridder was cleared as the third quarter began and said in the postgame locker room he had felt fine.

Heinicke started the next two games, losing both – Week 9 to the Minnesota Vikings and Week 10 to the Arizona Cardinals. Lessons were learned. Or rather, themes persisted.

"It's more of the same throughout the whole year," Heinicke said. "Obviously, Minnesota, it's scoring touchdowns in the red zone and the turnovers. Then, Arizona, when we got down there, we scored. And we didn't have any turnovers. But we just stalled out there in the middle of the game. So, we just want to put four quarters together and have a really clean game."

The Falcons then had their Week 11 bye. Upon their return, Smith handed the reigns back to Ridder.

Atlanta won its next two games, including an NFC South rematch with the New Orleans Saints in Week 12. The Falcons had another important divisional matchup in Week 14 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Atlanta lost that contest and therefore also lost its advantage in the playoff race.

Now, back to the recent past, last Sunday was the Week 15 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Ridder threw an interception in the fourth quarter that set up the Panthers' game-winning drive. Smith had originally said the plan was that Ridder would be the starting quarterback through the remainder of the season, but that message has slightly changed after the latest back-to-back losses.

"You've got to be willing to adapt," Smith said. "Same thing, like we planned, I don't want to keep switching week to week or half to half. That's not what we want to do. But we feel, right now with where we're at, that Taylor gives us the best chance."

In Heinicke's 2½ appearances this season, he completed 41 of his 74 passes (55.4%) for 498 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. As already mentioned, the Falcons lost those three games.

Atlanta now has its final three regular-season games on tap, beginning with Sunday's home finale at Mercedes-Benz Stadium against the Indianapolis Colts. After that, the Falcons travel to the Chicago Bears on Dec. 31 and then close the schedule out in New Orleans with the Saints on either Jan. 6 or 7.

"I just want to win," Heinicke said. "It's the only thing that really matters. It's the only stat that matters, especially as a quarterback."

Take a monochrome look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers during Week 15.

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