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The Desmond Ryder era in Atlanta began much like the long Marcus Mariota and Matt Ryan era ended; with hope extinguished by a catastrophic, terrifying twist of fortune.

Trailing by three points with 2:13 left in the Falcons’ division game against the New Orleans Saints, Reeder got a chance to be a hero. He was largely ineffective through the air, relying heavily on Atlanta’s ground game, but in this moment, on fourth-and-five, he stayed in the pocket and took a hit right into his hands. Drake London. For a moment, hope blossomed… and then the ball was punched out of London’s hands and straight into the waiting arms of Bradley Robbie.

After about 130 games, Reeder learned what Falcons quarterbacks have learned for generations. This team is cursed. Good luck!

In the pillow fight that is the NFC South, the Falcons entered the game 5-8, the Saints 4-9, and somehow both are, and amazingly still alive, in the playoff hunt, even with the Saints’ 21. 18 victories.

Rookie QB Desmond Reeder lost his first career start for the Falcons on Sunday in New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Greithen/Getty Images)

Moving on from Marcus Mariota, moving on to Desmond Reeder

During its bye week, despite still being in the playoff hunt, Atlanta made the decision to move away from Mariota and move Ridder, a move that clearly motivated Mariota. He opted to have surgery for what his agent called a chronic knee injury, an injury that neither kept him out nor caused him to miss this season. Mariota is now on injured reserve, ending his season and likely his 13-game tenure with Atlanta.

That meant Reeder, Atlanta’s 2022 third-round draft pick out of Cincinnati, would be at his best the rest of the season no matter what, working without the Nets. Against Atlanta’s hated rival, Ryder displayed all the trappings of an NFL rookie making his first career start. heavy reliance on the run game, happy feet in the pocket, laser-like focus on one safety blanket receiver. In Reeder’s case, the comfort target was rookie Drake London, the No. 8 pick in the 2022 draft and a receiver who makes it easy to catch with one hand. Ryder targeted London 11 times for 70 yards on seven receptions, all of them important and six of them for gains.

Ryder definitely needed the rescue as he struggled against the standard and advanced metrics. He was 13 of 26 for 97 yards on the day and leaned heavily on running backs Tyler Allgeier (139 yards, one touchdown) and Cordarrelle Patterson (52 yards, another touchdown). He put up an EPA (Expected Points Added) of minus-3.3 and his CPOE (Completion Percentage of Expected) was minus-18.6, meaning Sunday’s Ridder was a measurable downgrade from the expected performance of a QB.

However, there were signs of hope. With 11:07 left in the game and Atlanta down 21-10, the defense rushed Andy Dalton and gave Reeder the ball at the New Orleans 32 after a fumble. The Falcons drive into the end zone and convert the ensuing two-point attempt.

The roots of the Ridder/Mariota story stretch back to the 2021 draft, long before they joined the team. In that draft, which featured six quarterbacks who are currently or recently started in the NFL, Atlanta held the No. 4 pick and decided to go with tight end Kyle Pitts. That set up a partial rebuild for 2021, with Ryan taking snaps even though his days with the team were clearly few and far between. After a failed attempt to land Deshaun Watson, Atlanta traded Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts on March 21, 2022, the same day the team signed Mariota.

Any hopes Mariota might have had of being the Falcons’ QB of the future were to evaporate a month after that when Atlanta selected Ridder in the third round of the draft. Mariota beat out Ridder in the preseason to earn the starting nod to begin 2022. But after Atlanta inexplicably clinched the NFC South in Week 8, Mariota struggled, throwing just five touchdowns against three interceptions over the next five weeks as Atlanta went 1-4. Three of those losses have been by six points or less, and Atlanta has been outscored by 17 points once in that stretch. That made it easier, if not necessary, for a newbie to move.

Aside from the team’s desperation, there is another potential aspect to Ridder’s decision to give pictures now. The 2023 draft is shaping up to be another QB-heavy one, with Alabama State’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s CJ Stroud and Kentucky’s Will Lewis leading the crop. If Reeder struggles over the next four games, he could theoretically put Atlanta in a better position for another quarterback.

All things considered, Reeder wasn’t terrible on Sunday, but he played from behind the entire game, reacting rather than acting as the Falcon defense couldn’t contain the Taysom Hill dynamo. Ryder took a few sacks where he had to know, and soon would know, to throw the ball away. The game ended when Reeder, on a desperation finale, ran out with five seconds left and went out of bounds, possibly losing the game’s remaining time.

The Falcons travel to Baltimore next weekend before back-to-back home games against Arizona and Tampa Bay. Ryder should be under center for all three, and somehow, the Falcons could still make the postseason.


Contact Jay Busbee at [email protected] or on Twitter @jaybusbee.


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