Falcons' Smith wants to avoid 'musical chairs' at QB as Heinicke prepares for second start

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Arthur Smith expects to provide clarity on the Atlanta Falcons' long-term plan at quarterback soon.

Just not this week.

Taylor Heinicke will make his second straight start in Sunday's game at Arizona after Desmond Ridder lost the job because of his inability to avoid turnovers. Heinicke's mixed results in last week's 31-28 loss to the Minnesota Vikings included 268 passing yards with one touchdown and one interception.

The Falcons (4-5) have a bye following this week's game against the Cardinals, giving Smith and his coaching staff a chance to assess the quarterback situation. For the second straight week, Smith says the commitment to start Heinicke is only for one game.

Smith said Wednesday the decision is “my responsibility and what they pay me for." He said he doesn't want uncertainty at the position to continue through the season.

“So right now, in the short term, we feel where we’re at, everything we’ve got going on right now, we feel Taylor gives us the best chance,” Smith said before adding: "We’re not going to play musical chairs.

“With the bye, hopefully we’ll get this win and can take a second to really evaluate before we make that sprint to the end of the season.”

When asked if having a second game with Heinicke leading the offense will provide enough of an opportunity to make a firm decision, Smith said: “Yeah. Unless something unforeseen or injury happens.”

Heinicke said he's not focused on the long-term implications of how Sunday's game could affect his status as the starter.

“I try and block all that out,” Heinicke said after practice, adding the “outside noise” includes questions from family members and friends that he tries to ignore.

“All your attention should be on the game,” he said. “... My biggest goal is just to go out and win this game.”

The Falcons have more on the line than picking a long-term starting quarterback. Atlanta led the NFC South before losing two straight games and three of its last four. Now the Falcons are playing from behind as they attempt to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

“We've got a big game in the season coming up,” Smith said. “There’s nothing more important than this one Sunday in Arizona. We’re going to get ready to do everything we can to win this game.”

Ridder, a third-round draft pick out of Cincinnati in 2022, was 2-2 as the starter in a four-game audition to close last season before posting a 4-4 record with 12 turnovers — six interceptions and six lost fumbles — this season. He has passed for 1,701 yards with six touchdowns and rushed for 139 yards with three touchdowns.

Heinicke, 30, signed a $20 million, two-year deal with the Falcons on March 14 after starting 24 games the last two seasons with Washington.

In six quarters this season, Heinicke has passed for two touchdowns with one interception and has been sacked only twice. Ridder was sacked 25 times, including five with a lost fumble in the first half of a 28-23 loss at Tennessee on Oct. 29.

When pressed on the factors he is considering in the quarterback decision, Smith said, “There are some things I will keep private, for better or worse.” He added “maybe I’m overprotective” in guarding those details.

“But yeah, there’s so many things that go into it,” he said. “It’s not all on the quarterback and sometimes it’s the matchups, it’s the way things are trending. I think at the end it will all work itself out the way it should.”

NOTES: WR Drake London (groin) was limited in practice Wednesday, providing optimism he could return this week after missing one game. S Richie Grant (neck) also had limited participation. ... WR Mack Hollins (ankle), S DeMarcco Hellams (hamstring) and CB Dee Alford (ankle) did not practice. ... Atlanta signed OL John Leglue, who started five games for Pittsburgh in 2021, to its practice squad.


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