Atlanta Falcons QB Marcus Mariota Leaves Team After Demotion

The Atlanta Falcons had no choice but to send quarterback Marcus Mariota to the IR after he abruptly left the team the day after he was demoted to backup duties.

Marcus Mariota Arthur Smith Atlanta Falcons benched QB
Marcus Mariota Arthur Smith Atlanta Falcons benched QB
Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith and quarterback Marcus Mariota engaged in a pregame discussion at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Image: Getty)

The Falcons were on a bye in Week 14 when they indicated they wanted to switch things up at quarterback for their next game. Head coach Arthur Smith promoted rookie Desmond Ridder to starting quarterback, but Mariota didn’t handle his demotion like a professional.

Josh Kendall from The Athletic reported that Mariota left the team, which means the Falcons lost their backup quarterback. Without Mariota, the Falcons installed third-string quarterback Logan Woodside as the backup behind Ridder against the Saints on Sunday.

The Falcons also have the versatile Feleipe Franks on their roster. Franks is a backup tight end who can also take over as the emergency quarterback.

The New Orleans Saints host the Falcons in Week 15 at the Superdome. The Falcons are a +4 road dog with Ridder getting his first NFL start.

The Saints beat the Falcons in Week 1 when the Falcons squandered a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost, 27-26. The Saints pulled off a remarkable comeback in the season opener, and the Falcons waited 14 weeks for a revenge rematch.

Falcons Long Shot to Win Awful NFC South

The Falcons are 5-8, but they play in the NFC South, which is the worst division in the NFL this season. All four teams in the division have a losing record, including the first-place Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 6-7 and the Carolina Panthers in second place with a 5-8 record. Only two wins separate the first-place Bucs and the last-place Saints (4-9).

The NFC South division winner will secure a playoff berth, even if they have a losing record. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Bucs have a 65% chance to win the division and advance to the playoffs. The Panthers have a 31% chance to overtake the Bucs and win the NFC South. The Falcons are a long shot with a 4% chance to snatch away the division title. Even the Saints have yet to be mathematically eliminated, but they have less than a 1% chance to pull off a near-impossible feat.

With four weeks remaining in the regular season, the NFC South crown is still wide open. Oddsmakers at DraftKings installed the Bucs as the betting favorite at -280 odds to win the NFC South. The Panthers are +300 odds to win the division, and the Falcons are +1200 odds as the long shot.

The loser of the Saints/Falcons game gets knocked out of the NFC South race and eliminated from playoff contention.

The Bucs face a tough matchup in Week 15 against the red-hot Cincinnati Bengals. Tom Brady is a rare home dog at +3.5 against Joe Burrow and the Bengals.

The Panthers are a slight -2 favorite against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15. The Steelers have yet to name a starting quarterback with Kenny Pickett currently in concussion protocol.

Falcons Promote Ridder, Mariota Skips Town

No one from the Falcons knows where Mariota went, but all signs point toward his home in Hawaii. Mariota grew up in Hawaii, where he was a multisport star at Saint Louis School in Honolulu. As a three-year starting quarterback at Oregon, Mariota led the Ducks to a 36-5 record in the early 2010s. In 2014, he was a unanimous All-American and won the Heisman Trophy.

The Tennessee Titans selected Mariota with the #2 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. He had an inconsistent run with the Titans, mostly because of numerous injuries.

In 2019, Mariota lost his starting job to backup Ryan Tannehill. The benching worked, because Tannehill reinvigorated the sputtering offense and led the Titans to a berth in the AFC Championship game.

Smith was the offensive coordinator with the Titans in 2019 when head coach Mike Vrabel made the tough but obvious decision to bench Mariota in favor of Tannehill. Mariota took the demotion in stride.

Flash forward three years later. As the head coach of the Falcons, Smith made a similar decision to bench Mariota in favor of Ridder.

Those conversations are never easy,” Smith told The Athletic. “You try to be truthful, whether they agree or not, those are the conversations you have to have.”

Unlike his demotion in 2019, Mariota didn’t handle the news well in 2022.

Mariota said he needed to step away from the team to heal an injured knee. The Falcons indicated that they were unaware of any knee injuries this season.

On Wednesday, Smith revealed that Mariota will undergo knee surgery. It’s not the first time that a player hid an injury from the team.

Smith: Ridder Can Push Falcons Over the Hump

The Falcons are technically still alive in the playoff hunt. But they’d have to win all of their remaining games. They also need their divisional rivals to lose key games.

The Falcons have a fighting chance, which is why Smith and the Falcons decided to start Ridder. They think the rookie will help increase their chances of advancing to the postseason.

The Falcons started the season 4-4, but then went 1-4 over their next five games with a slumping Mariota. Four out of those five games were decided by one score. In their previous six losses, the Falcons averaged only 15.5 points per game.

We talked about trying to get over the hump in some of these close games and where we’re trying to push the offense,” said Smith. “We feel like it’s the best decision where Ridder is at. I wouldn’t have made this decision if I didn’t think it was in the best interest of this team, not only short term but probably long term as well.”

If the Falcons miss the playoffs, then at least they can see Ridder in action and evaluate how far he’s come as a future prospect. By designating Mariota to the IR, he’s out for the next four games, or not able to suit up for the remainder of the regular season.

“Ridder always looked pretty good at practice,” said running back Caleb Huntley. “He makes the throws that he needs to, and he’s always confident, so I know he’ll be ready.”

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