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Quarterback Taylor Heinicke 'excited for the opportunity' to start against Minnesota Vikings

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith named Taylor Heinicke the Week 9 starting quarterback.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Taylor Heinicke finds comfort in an uncomfortable position, because he has been here before. Numerous times.

Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith officially named Heinicke the Week 9 starting quarterback Wednesday. That decisions leaves Desmond Ridder as the backup quarterback when the Minnesota Vikings come to Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday (1 p.m., FOX). This marks Heinicke's first start in 2023.

"I feel comfortable with it," Heinicke said. "It's definitely different from other times, but I'm excited for the opportunity."

Ever since he joined the NFL in 2015, Heinicke has been a backup.

The Vikings were actually the first team to sign Heinicke as an undrafted free agent out of Old Dominion. He didn't see the field until 2017, though, with the Houston Texans.

Heinicke originally signed to the Texans practice squad but ended up with one game appearance, taking nine offensive snaps in a Week 16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Heinicke's debut saw him complete his sole pass attempt for 10 yards and carry the ball once for two yards. He was sacked one time for a loss of 16 yards. The Texans otherwise had Tom Savage, Deshaun Watson and T.J. Yates at quarterback. Yates, currently the Falcons' wide receivers coach, started the game in which Heinicke played.

From there, Heinicke spent 2018 with the Carolina Panthers, backing up starting quarterback Cam Newton. Heinicke appeared in six games, even gaining his first career start in a Week 16 loss to the Falcons. The 33-of-53 completed passes for 274 yards, three interceptions and one touchdown from that game made up the majority of Heinicke's stat line that season: 35-of-57 for 320 yards, three interceptions and a touchdown.

And then he was off again, joining the Washington Commanders, where he stayed for three years and started 24 of the 26 games he played in during that span. His biggest opportunity came in 2021 when he assumed starting responsibilities after Ryan Fitzpatrick was injured in the opener. Heinicke compiled a 7-8 record as the starter and completed 321 of his 494 passes (65%) for 3,419 yards, 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Heinicke hit the free agency market on March 13 of this year, and the Falcons signed him the next day. From the beginning, though, Heinicke knew the plan was for Ridder to be the starter in Atlanta. That was true, until now.

"The biggest thing is you just prepare like you're starting," Heinicke said. "I remember my first four, five years, I never saw the field. I was kind of the third-string guy. I didn't even dress on game day. But you practice being a starter by preparing like you're a starter. Then, when your time comes, you know how to prepare. That's helped me in the past."

Ridder started the first eight games of the Falcons 2023 season, completing 157 of his 240 passes (65.4%) for 1,701 yards. He threw six touchdowns and six interceptions.

During last Sunday's Week 8 loss to the Tennessee Titans, though, Heinicke was called upon once again. Ridder was evaluated for a concussion at halftime, and despite being cleared, Smith opted to stick with Heinicke for the remainder of the game. In those two quarters, Heinicke completed 12 of his 21 passes (57.1%) for 175 yards and a touchdown.

Heinicke thought he played well and that experience is now "huge" given his elevated role.

"I got to get some timing down with Van (Jefferson), Red (KhaDarel Hodge), Drake (London) and Kyle (Pitts)," Heinicke said. "I also kind of got the feel of the game again. Obviously, practice is one thing. But live game reps, you can't emulate that. It was nice to dip your toe in the water last week."

Smith said there were “a lot of variables” behind the decision to give Heinicke the start in Week 9. The head coach wouldn't elaborate beyond that when pressed for details.

The future of the quarterback position in Atlanta is still up in the air, too. Smith made it clear in his Wednesday press conference that this is a Week 9 decision. He and the rest of the Falcons coaching staff will continue to evaluate the quarterback position as the season progresses.

"I try to be as present as I can," Heinicke said. "The biggest goal and task for me this week is to go out there and play good football. Try and get this win. Whatever happens in the future happens. We'll deal with it then. Right now, my focus is on the Vikings."

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