Falcons’ collapse not surprising but still painful for Smith

New Orleans Saints linebacker Kaden Elliss (55) works against Atlanta Falcons quarterback...
New Orleans Saints linebacker Kaden Elliss (55) works against Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota (1) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sep. 11, 2022, in Atlanta. The New Orleans Saints won 27-26. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)(Danny Karnik | AP)
Published: Dec. 26, 2022 at 10:39 PM EST
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(AP) - From 4-4 to 5-10, the Atlanta Falcons have collapsed in the second half of a season that was seen as a rebuilding year from the start.

Even so, that doesn’t take away the sting of losing for coach Arthur Smith, who is 12-20 in nearly two years on the job.

“Ultimately, it’s about winning, but you can look at a lot of progress being made,” Smith said after Saturday’s 17-9 loss at Baltimore. “Our guys are a resilient group. We need to win. I’m thankful we have another opportunity next week at home.”

When the Falcons bring a four-game losing streak into a likely half-full Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face Arizona on Sunday, they will do so knowing they haven’t had a winning record at any point since the end of the 2017 season. They have missed the playoffs for five straight years and have lost six of seven, even with a change at quarterback from Marcus Mariota to rookie Desmond Ridder.

All this gloom hasn’t affected Smith’s outlook on the final two games of the season. Seven of Atlanta’s losses have been by 10 points or fewer. Five of the last seven losses were one-possession games.

“There has been a ton of progress,” Smith said. “It’s different from last year when we were in some one-score games, completely different team and different situations going back and looking at them. We’ve got to find a way to get over that hump.”

The Falcons will spend the next two weeks and plenty of time in the offseason evaluating whether Ridder, a third-round draft choice from Cincinnati, is the answer at quarterback. Four games as a starter is a small sample size, and Ridder has yet to show he can win in the NFL.

He hasn’t been terrible, either, completing 35 of 59 passes for 315 yards. He hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass but hasn’t been intercepted, either. His passer rating is a mediocre 73.8. Atlanta’s offense under Smith is run-first.

“I thought his decision-making was good, and he was pretty accurate,” Smith said after Ridder completed 22 of 33 passes for 218 yards against Baltimore. “I thought he made some big-time throws when the pressure got on him in the second half, and that’s what you want to see. He was calm and collected, and I thought he delivered the football.

“A couple things here and there that we have to look at down in the red zone. Short yardage and things like that. But I thought from the pocket presence against a quality defense that gives you a lot of looks, I thought he had pretty good poise.”