Taylor Heinicke hurting; Falcons cling to fragile playoff hopes

Taylor Heinicke hurting; Falcons cling to fragile playoff hopes

WITH one week remaining in the regular season, the Atlanta Falcons are down to a wing and a prayer when it comes to miniscule hopes for the playoffs.

And in what has become a recurring theme, the Falcons may need to switch quarterbacks when they visit the New Orleans Saints in Week 18.

The Falcons (7-9) suffered a 37-17 loss at the Chicago Bears on New Year’s Eve to fall into third place in the NFC South. Late in the game, starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke injured his left ankle and was replaced by Desmond Ridder.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith told reporters Monday that the team should “have a good idea by Friday” whether Mr. Heinicke will be able to play in the critical game at New Orleans.

“Obviously, he’s going to do everything he can to play,” Mr. Smith said of Mr. Heinicke. “We’ll have to monitor that. … I know Taylor. He’s going to put everything he can into trying to go.”

Mr. Ridder and Mr. Heinicke have swapped spots on the depth chart three times this season due to both injury and ineffectiveness. Mr. Heinicke is the more experienced of the two, but he tossed three interceptions and just one touchdown on 10-of-29 passing Sunday against the Bears.

Mr. Ridder completed three passes and threw one pick in relief of Heinicke. He has been turnover-prone all season, with 11 interceptions and six lost fumbles. Mr. Heinicke hurt his ankle in a Week 16 win over the Indianapolis Colts and was limited in practice throughout last week, meaning Mr. Ridder took plenty of reps in his place.

Mr. Smith, who has faced questions about his job security toward the end of his third season in Atlanta, has been dealt plenty of adversity at the most important position in football.

“It’s like a lot of things in life. What you can control and how you react to things and having plans is part of your job,” Mr. Smith said. “Obviously what you’re doing at that position, that’s why you always got to make sure everybody’s ready to go, because it’s real.”

With that in mind, the Falcons turn to their final division game of the season. They have only one path to reach the playoffs following Week 17 results.

Only if the Falcons beat the Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose to the cellar-dwelling Carolina Panthers could Atlanta sneak into the postseason. In that scenario, a three-way tie atop the division at 8-9 favors Atlanta. The Falcons have the tiebreaker by virtue of having the best head-to-head record against the other two clubs (3-1).

The Saints (8-8) have won three of their last four games, including a big 23-13 win at Tampa Bay last Sunday to keep their division hopes alive. Derek Carr threw for 197 yards and two touchdowns on 24-of-32 passing.

Ridder was the Falcons’ quarterback when they beat the Saints 24-15 on Nov. 26 in Atlanta. He threw for a touchdown and two interceptions, while Bijan Robinson had 91 rushing yards, 32 receiving yards and two scores in that one.

“Any time we play New Orleans, it’s a big deal,” Mr. Smith said. “Certainly this game’s got a lot on the line. I know that some of it’s out of our control, but again, that’s our own doing, right? To not control your own (destiny). But we gotta get ready to go and put everything we got and go beat New Orleans.” — Reuters