ATLANTA — Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder doesn’t grab a stat sheet when games are over and doesn’t pay much attention to his passing numbers during the week. It’s just as well. They’re pretty pedestrian. He was 19-for-32 for 237 yards Sunday.
There are parts of Sunday’s game film he might want to skip, too. He threw his first NFL interception and would have thrown two more if Green Bay Packers defenders could catch.
“You can’t just go look at, ‘I was however many out of however many,’ and say, ‘This is how I played in this game,’” Ridder said. “You can’t look at the QBR (quarterback rating) because it is what is. Last week, I had a high QBR. This week I don’t know what it was.”
It was average (79.8), but other numbers were much more impressive, starting with 25-24. That was the final score of Atlanta’s come-from-behind win over Green Bay at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, a win that made the Falcons 2-0 for the first time since 2017. Or four, the number of consecutive victories Ridder has as an NFL starter. Or 30-0, which is now his record in college and pro home games dating to his days at the University of Cincinnati.
“He’s got a belief, and he’s got evidence of it,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said after his team outscored the Packers 13-0 in the fourth quarter to erase a 24-12 deficit.
The game’s decisive points came when Younghoe Koo kicked a 25-yard field goal with 57 seconds left after Ridder led a 66-yard scoring drive.
“He’s a winner, guys believe in him, you can see it,” Smith said. “In those critical situations, he’s at his best. That’s been his history. The guys love him. He embodies what we’re about.”
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— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) September 17, 2023
Here’s another number — 63.8. That’s the percentage of 2-0 teams that have made the playoffs since the postseason expanded in 1990. There was some question about whether the Falcons could make the playoffs with Ridder, a third-round selection in 2022, at the helm, and, honestly, at times in the first half it looked like the answer was, “No.”
He threw for 105 yards in the first 30 minutes. Even his completed passes weren’t exactly on target. The first drive of the game ended on his first career interception, a fluttering ball that was fielded by Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas after defensive lineman Kenny Clark hit Ridder in the chest as he was releasing the ball.
“After that interception, I kind of look at the demeanor of players after stuff like that, and (Ridder) went right to the sideline and he looked at everybody and said, ‘Hey, we’re good.’ He wasn’t fazed at all,” said rookie running back Bijan Robinson, who had his first professional 100-yard game, finishing with 124 yards on 19 carries. “Seeing his confidence, it just gives us a calm sense about ourselves that we can just go down and score like we did.”
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Ridder knows his teammates are watching.
“That’s just kind of how my whole career has been, never been too high, never been too low. We always talk about in the quarterback meeting room, that the energy feeds off us,” Ridder said. “If we’re down, everyone is going to be down. If we’re up, everyone is going to be up. I try to stay neutral. I think I did my best to just stay calm and take each play as it comes.”
Ridder had been one of only two players since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970 to make it through his first five starts without an interception, joining the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott. His 134 attempts without an interception to start his career were the fifth most in NFL history. Those are the kind of numbers that make it so hard to give Ridder a final grade. There always seems to be some good and some bad.
It’s the same thing Ridder sees when he watches game film. He gives himself his own grade after every game. Last week’s win over Carolina earned a C-plus, he said, and he speculated that Sunday would land in the same range.
“There is always room for improvement, always something you can do better,” he said. “One of the worst things you can do in this league as a football player is feel like you have made it or worked hard enough to be where you’re at. For me, I feel like I’ve always got to work harder, always got to do that extra thing or always have to be better.”
The Falcons know Ridder will keep working, Smith said.
“That’s what we love about him,” the coach said. “So much of this game is not just evaluating the physical tools, it’s between the ears and the chest that’s a big part of it, too.”
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— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) September 17, 2023
In the fourth quarter Sunday, Ridder was 6-for-8 for 119 yards passing and added five carries for 16 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown run.
“He balled out today,” Robinson said. “He kept his composure the whole time, the whole game. Nothing ever rattled him. He just kept getting more hyped and hyped. Seeing that from a quarterback and seeing how much of a dog he is when it comes to those situations, I’m very confident in what we can do this season.”
Ridder was still taking charge in his postgame interview session. When a reporter asked about the Falcons looking “down for the count,” he quickly interrupted with, “Nah, nah, nah, never down for the count. When you see the Atlanta Falcons out there, we’re never down for the count. We’re going to fight until that clock hits zero. I’m proud of this team and everyone on this team for not giving up.”
When another reporter told Ridder he needed to wait for a microphone to ask his question, the quarterback laughed and said, “You’re loud, you’re good.”
“I see a great leader and a guy who makes plays when the opportunity comes,” said Falcons veteran left tackle Jake Matthews. “The way he led the huddle and called the plays, we were confident and on the same page. I have high praise for him.”
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Atlanta gained 446 yards Sunday, its second-highest total in Smith’s two-plus years as head coach and its highest since Oct. 10, 2021.
“We thought we were moving the ball pretty well all day,” Smith said. “We’ve got a lot of belief. You just have to go out there and prove it. I had a lot of confidence that we would come out and execute pretty well today. Always a lot of things we have to work on, but we’ve got a lot of belief in our guys. Our guys keep swinging.”
The Falcons started each half with a three-and-out but counterbalanced that with seven drives of eight or more plays and had almost 13 minutes more time of possession than the Packers. Drake London, with six catches for 67 yards and a touchdown, was the leading receiver.
“That’s not the best Atlanta Falcons offense you see right there,” Ridder said. “We know we can do way better than that. It’s up to us to go back to work for Detroit next week.”
Ridder called Sunday “strides in the right direction” and said the offense will continue to try to find its rhythm earlier in games.
“You try to get in the flow of the game on snap one,” he said. “Sometimes it takes a little bit longer to get going. That’s one thing this offseason that we worked on, how can we go out there and be in that rhythm, be in that flow from play one. That’s one thing we will continue to work on. It’s Game 2 of a 17-game season so we’ll just continue to work.”
(Photo: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)
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