Falcons bench Desmond Ridder, announce Taylor Heinicke as starter against Vikings

Taylor Heinicke #4 of the Atlanta Falcons drops back to pass during the game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on October 29, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Titans defeated the Falcons 28-23. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Taylor Heinicke said he’s focusing only on one game and not his long-term role after moving past turnover-plagued Desmond Ridder as the Atlanta Falcons’ starting quarterback against the Minnesota Vikings.

Coach Arthur Smith announced Wednesday the decision to start Heinicke was made "with all the variables considering everything." Smith would not commit to Heinicke keeping the job past Sunday.

"Really our focus is short term and what gives us the best chance for Sunday," he said.

Heinicke said he is leaning on his experience making similar moves into the starting lineup the last two seasons with Washington and isn’t focusing on his chances to keep the job the rest of this season.

"This week, yeah, 100%," Heinicke said after practice Wednesday. "That’s the only thing I’m focused on is this week. ... I’m focused on being the guy this week. We’ll see what happens going forward."

The move comes with the Falcons (4-4) tied with New Orleans for first place in the NFC South.

Heinicke took over in the second half of last week’s 28-23 loss at Tennessee. At the time, Smith insisted that benching Ridder was not a performance-based move. Ridder was evaluated for a concussion and the second-year quarterback remained on the sideline after being cleared.

Smith said Wednesday that Ridder is "clear and available" and will be Heinicke’s top backup against the Vikings.

When asked if Heinicke could win the job for more than one week, Smith said, "right now we’re focused on Minnesota."

Ridder was sacked five times and lost another fumble — his 10th turnover in the past five games — against the Titans. The Falcons managed only 89 total yards, 35 net passing yards and five first downs in the first half with Ridder.

Heinicke led the Falcons on four scoring drives — two touchdowns and two field goals — while completing 12 of 21 passes for 171 yards.

"A lot of things we had seen in Taylor that we saw on Sunday," Smith said, referring to Heinicke’s "unique ability to extend plays."

"This isn’t his first rodeo," Smith said.

When asked how Ridder responded when told he wouldn’t start against Minnesota, Smith said: "Des is awesome. Those guys are incredible. Again, there are a lot of things that go into it, so this isn’t some grand statement for forever."

Ridder declined to comment following practice and said he would talk with reporters on Thursday.

There will be two new starting quarterbacks in Sunday’s game. Minnesota is expected to start Jaren Hall as the replacement for Kirk Cousins, who is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. The Vikings acquired Joshua Dobbs from Arizona on Tuesday, providing another option at quarterback.

Ridder, a third-round draft pick from Cincinnati in 2022, has completed 65.4% of his passes, going 157 of 240 for 1,701 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions. He has rushed for 139 yards with three touchdowns and lost six of seven fumbles.

Heinicke, 30, signed a $20 million, two-year deal with the Falcons on March 14. It was a homecoming for Heinicke, who was born in Lawrenceville and played at Collins Hills High School near Atlanta. He started 24 games the last two seasons with Washington in similar situations as his new challenge with the Falcons.

In 2021, Heinicke began the season as a backup for Washington. He took over the top spot again after an injury to Ryan Fitzpatrick and then replaced Carson Wentz as the starter in 2022.

"The difference between Carson and Desmond is Carson has been in the league for a long time," Heinicke said. "This is kind of new for Des. So he’s handled it very well. He’s speaking up in meetings. He’s very engaged. He’s helping me out any way he can."

For his career, Heinicke has completed 63.7% of his passes, with 35 touchdowns and 24 interceptions in 34 games, including 25 starts.

NOTES: WR Drake London (groin) did not practice. CB Mike Hughes (concussion) wore a yellow jersey and was limited. … The Falcons continued to adjust their depth chart after announcing Monday that DT Grady Jarrett would miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury. Jarrett’s replacement, LaCale London, was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday with a knee injury. The team signed DL Travis Bell, a seventh-round draft pick by the Chicago Bears this year from Kennesaw State, near Atlanta. Bell joins DL Kentavius Street, who was acquired with a 2025 seventh-round draft pick from Philadelphia on Monday for a 2024 sixth-round pick, as new depth on the defensive front.