ATLANTA — With two minutes left in Sunday’s game, the Falcons had a chance, and this team isn’t one that’s created a lot of chances, so they can ill afford to pass up any.
Atlanta trailed 19-17 at the time and faced third-and-7th at Arizona’s 27-yard line. The Falcons were already within range of kicker Younghoe Koo, but not converting would have allowed the Cardinals to win the ball back with plenty of time to mount their own return even if Koo had made his kick.
Against that, rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder threw perhaps his best pass as a Falcon, a dart into tight area coverage that led to a 14-yard gain by tight end MyCole Pruitt. Atlanta drained the rest of the clock, Koo hit a 21-yard winner as time expired, and Ridder notched his first NFL win and first fourth-quarter comeback as the Falcons beat the Cardinals 20-19.
“An important play on his part, it was a tight window, a moment not to be missed,” said Falcons coach Arthur Smith, looking a little lighter after watching his team win for the second time. since October.
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— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) January 1, 2023
For a team and a fan base eager to find hope wherever they can, this throw from Ridder provided at least some promise that the year ahead will be brighter than the one just past. And that capped off the best performance of Ridder’s short career. In his third start, the University of Cincinnati player was 19 of 26 for 169 yards with a 90.1 passer rating, his highest.
—Aaron Freeman (@falcfans) January 1, 2023
Wow, that was a bold and absolutely perfect throw.
—William McFadden (@willmcfadden) January 1, 2023
that throw from Ridder to MyCole Pruitt was AWESOME
— Kevin Knight (@AlcoholicKevin) January 1, 2023
Ridder was 3-for-3 for 31 yards on the game-winning drive, which covered 72 yards and took 4:57. It was Atlanta’s 157th possession of the season. According to TruMedia, only three NFL teams since 2000 have had fewer in a season, a sign of how difficult the season is for the Falcons and how valuable every opportunity is. They failed to play on most of their chances which is how they came into Sunday’s game having lost six of their previous seven. These failures made Ridder’s success all the more noticeable.
“You can do a lot of stats in quarters one through three, but if you want to be a great quarterback, you have to win critical third downs and two-minute situations and win the game like he did there. -down,” Smith said.
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Ridder was 5-for-7 for 45 yards in the fourth quarter. He described his decisive throw to Pruitt as routine.
“You’re in the red zone, so the windows are going to be tighter,” he said. “I saw them drop back into the area and I knew I had to get him a ball which we threw every day in training. That’s what I did. He grabbed it, took a step back and took us a few more yards.
The victory moved Atlanta to 6-10 and dropped the Cardinals to 4-12. The Falcons hurt their draft position with the win, which would hurt their ability to find a new quarterback if they were to do so this offseason, but Ridder took at least one small step to convince the team that she could already have her quarterback of the future.
“His pocket awareness was really good, he extended some plays, took us out of some things, and that’s what you want to see if you want to be a real starting quarterback in this league, you have to be able to do it,” Smith says.
Ridder still has no NFL touchdown (or interception), but he came close on Sunday with two assists that rivaled his throw to Pruitt for “the best of the season.” The first was in the field along the left sideline to wide receiver Damiere Byrd and broken in what Byrd described as a “bang-bang play.” The next was a route to Cordarrelle Patterson in the red zone which was dislodged when Patterson fell to the field.
“I think he played really well,” Byrd said. “When you play well enough to win the game, that’s all we ask. As a rookie you’re thrown into the fire, week to week it’s always going to be different and he’s been able to progress and was able to regain his composure and take over the huddle and orchestrate the things that we have to orchestrate.
The Falcons improved to 5-3 at home. They will conclude their season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium next week against a Buccaneers team that won the NFC South on Sunday beating the Panthers 30-24.
“We just want to play our best game every day. We know we can’t make the playoffs, but we’re talking about wanting to end these last two games strong, end them with something good going forward,” Ridder said. “It started well today.”
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Ridder’s other recruits also continued their ascent. Running back Tyler Allgeier had a career-high 20 carries and finished with 83 yards. Allgeier has 1,039 scrimmage yards (900 rushing, 139 through the air), making him the Falcons’ fourth rookie in the top 1,000. He joins William Andrews, Kyle Pitts and Julio Jones. Wide receiver Drake London caught five passes for 47 yards and moved up to second in team rookie history with 746 yards.
“There’s a lot of hope,” Smith said. “It’s not just the rookies, but it’s nice to see these guys that we’ve invested in that fit our culture (playing well). We’ll just keep finding ways to try to improve and win. It’s going to come down to these close matches. The way this team works, I will be sad that next week is the last week for us.
(Photo: Dale Zanine/USA Today)