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Falcons show promise, but future depends on QB Desmond Ridder’s upside

By newadmin / Published on Monday, 09 Jan 2023 16:31 PM / No Comments / 3 views


ATLANTA — Ending the season with two straight wins allowed the Falcons to match last year’s 7-10 record, finishing just a game out of first place in the NFC South, and a strong final push has provided a different optimism to the offseason ahead.

“We were definitely trending in the right way to close the season and that’s encouraging,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said after a 30-17 win over the Bucs on Sunday. “This season was a little tough in the beginning. We had guys that didn’t have a lot of experience, but a lot of people got better. That is what’s exciting, so I am excited for how we were trending.”

Sunday’s win has an asterisk of sorts, as the Bucs, having locked up the NFC South title and No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs, rested nine players and pulled most of their starters after the first half. That turned a 17-10 Tampa Bay lead into a dominating second half for Atlanta, with the Falcons scoring the final 20 points and outgaining the Bucs 304 yards to 38 after halftime.

“We’re going to come back better,” said rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder, who threw his first two NFL touchdown passes Sunday, to tight end MyCole Pruitt and receiver Olamide Zaccheaus. “This was an up and down ride the entire season. There were a couple of times where we wanted to get over the hump and we wanted to keep it going. We had a couple of setbacks. Our goal for these past two games was to finish 2-0, to start the new year 2-0 in 2023, to where we have the momentum to come in, put in the work in the offseason and get better for next year.”

Desmond Ridder on Falcons’ win over Tampa Bay

Atlanta QB Desmond Ridder speaks on the Falcons’ 30-17 win over the Buccaneers in Week 18. “We wanted to go 2-0 in 2023,” he tells FOX Sports’ Kristina Pink.

Did Ridder show enough in his four starts to convince the Falcons not to take another quarterback high in the draft or to sign a veteran to start? The Falcons definitely have a rookie they can build around in running back Tyler Allgeier, who rushed for 135 yards on Sunday, putting him over 1,000 for the season and setting the team’s rookie rushing record, held by William Andrews since 1979.

“I think it’s for sure an achievement,” Allgeier said after the win, a game ball in his locker. “I think it’s a good starting point for me. I think for the offense as well, having a 1,000-yard rusher, it’s just a really good starting point for me and all the guys.” 

Atlanta had never beaten Tom Brady in 11 previous tries, and while he left the game in the second quarter, it still counts as a loss on his record. The NFC South could have all sorts of upheaval in the offseason, with the Bucs, Saints and Panthers also looking at potential changes at quarterback. Brady is a free agent, as is the Saints’ Andy Dalton and the Panthers’ Sam Darnold, and there could be coaching changes in the division as well.

While Carolina, New Orleans and Atlanta all finished 7-10, the Falcons are officially fourth in the division, which means they’ll have the benefit of a last-place schedule in 2023, with three games against other last-place teams. The Falcons will host the Commanders and will travel to face the Cardinals and Jets. It’s a small piece of the puzzle, but it could help Atlanta in what looks to be a wide-open division next season.

“You can feel a little more foundation and identity, especially up front,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said after Sunday’s win. “The offensive line, I thought, week in and week out they rose to the occasion. They were knocking people off the ball. If we wanted to run it, we could. There’s a physicality and a brand. And the next challenge is to make sure we become more explosive offensively. We need more pass rush. I get all that. But every game, other than the one up in Cincinnati, the other 16 was a dogfight, and these guys embraced it. So there’s a big difference.” 

The Falcons will have the No. 8 pick in April’s draft, and that could allow them to address a pass rush that had the league’s fewest sacks over the past two seasons. Atlanta also has $69 million in available cap space according to Spotrac, which is the second-most of any NFL team, allowing the organization to be more active in free agency to address positional needs. The Falcons don’t have a ton of high-end free agents themselves, though re-signing tackle Kaleb McGary will be an expensive but important priority.

Atlanta’s rookie class had a huge impact this season, with first-rounder Drake London finishing with 72 catches for 866 yards and four touchdowns. If tight end Kyle Pitts, Atlanta’s 2021 first-round pick, can come back healthy after missing much of this season with a knee injury, the Falcons could have an emerging offense in the fall with some more additions.

“We’re building right now,” London said Sunday. “I think we’re on the right track.”

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Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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