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Arthur Smith names Taylor Heinicke as starting quarterback for Week 9 game vs. Minnesota Vikings

The Falcons head coach promised he'd announce who will be Week 9's QB1 on Wednesday, and he delivered.


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Taylor Heinicke will take over the role of Atlanta Falcons starting quarterback in Week 9.

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith promised he'd announce the starter on Wednesday, and he delivered. Heinicke will be the Falcons signal-caller as Atlanta prepares to host the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday (1 p.m., FOX) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Desmond Ridder will prepare in a backup capacity for the first time this season.

"We're not looking at the long-term right now," Smith said. "Right now, we're focusing on Minnesota, obviously, with Taylor. There were a lot of variables (when deciding to switch from Ridder). … Really, our focus is short-term and what gives us the best chance Sunday with everything being considered."

Smith would not clarify what those variables were. Ridder was cleared of any follow-up work after he was evaluated for a concussion in the Week 8 game against the Tennessee Titans.

Heinicke steps into the elevated role after playing the final two quarters of last Sunday's loss. He entered the game after halftime when Ridder was originally pulled for a possible concussion. Though Ridder was cleared then, too, Smith opted to stick with Heinicke.

"You get into moments in the season where things come up," Smith said. "(Heinicke) is a legitimate pro. That's why we like him. He goes in there, and it's not an easy job coming out of the bathroom and being told, 'Hey, here's the ball. Go play.' But that's what make Taylor who he is and why we have a special appreciation for him."

Heinicke completed 12 of his 21 passes – good for a 57.1% success rate – for 175 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked once for 8 yards. The Falcons' sole passing touchdown was an 8-yarder from Heinicke to wide receiver Scotty Miller in the fourth quarter. That put Atlanta within comeback distance – five points – of Tennessee.

The Falcons failed to see the comeback through, though. Their defense prevented the Titans from expanding their lead and gave the offense the ball back with 2:19 on the clock. Atlanta looked like it was about to convert on a fourth-and-1 at its own 22-yard line, but wide receiver Van Jefferson dropped a pass from Heinicke.

"There are a lot of things that we see in Taylor," Smith said. "I mean, you saw on Sunday, the way that – whether you want to call it spatial awareness – he has a unique ability to extend plays, the way that he gets out of there. This isn't his first rodeo."

In the first two quarters, Ridder had completed eight of his 12 passes – good for a 66.7% success rate – for 71 yards. He was sacked five times for a loss of 36 yards and also lost a fumble that led to a Titans touchdown. The lost fumble was Ridder's seventh turnover in the past three games. He threw three interceptions in the Falcons' Week 6 loss to the Washington Commanders and lost three fumbles in the Week 7 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Smith made it clear after the most recent game that the decision to sit Ridder was not performance based.

Ridder had been the Falcons' go-to guy since Week 14 of the 2022 season when he replaced Marcus Mariota at quarterback. In the final four games, Ridder led Atlanta to a 2-2 finish. He completed 73 of his 115 passes (63.5%) for 708 yards and two touchdowns. That was enough for the Falcons to name the former third-round draft pick their starter entering 2023.

Through eight games, in which the Falcons have gone 4-4, Ridder has completed 157 of his 240 passes (65.4%) for 1,701 yards and six touchdowns. He has, however, thrown six interceptions and fumbled seven times.

"Des is awesome," Smith said. "Those guys (in the quarterback room) are incredible. There's a lot of things that go into this. It isn't some, like, grand statement for forever."

Before this week, there were times when Ridder's starting status was questioned, but Smith firmly stood behind Ridder.

The recent mid-game switch, though, sparked the question again: Will the Falcons make a midseason switch at quarterback? For the time being, the answer is yes.

"I always consult with everybody," Smith said. "But ultimately, that's my job: a decision-maker. I'll never pass the buck to anybody."

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