ATLANTA — The question came too soon.
Head coach Arthur Smith made it very clear in the days leading up to the Atlanta Falcons’ Week 9 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings that Taylor Heinicke would be the starting quarterback for this game and this game alone. Any future decision regarding the position would be made at a later time. That time was not Sunday immediately after the Falcons lost 31-28 to the Vikings.
Still, Smith was asked during his post-game press conference whether the title of QB1 will remain with Heinicke or return to Desmond Ridder, who started every game but Sunday’s for the Falcons.
“Not right now,” Smith said. “We have to get back to evaluate. I’m not going to give some answer when we haven’t sat back and looked at everything.”
Heinicke started and played all four quarters Sunday, completing 21 of his 38 passes for 268 yards. He threw a touchdown and an interception. He was sacked once for a loss of 8 yards.
His lone touchdown came in the third quarter when tight end Jonnu Smith turned a short dart into a 60-yard score.
The interception also happened in the third quarter, just later. It was the first play of the drive that followed a Vikings touchdown. The Falcons were at their own 24-yard line.
“There’s a couple plays here and there that we really wish I could have come back,” Heinicke said. “That interception was an awful throw. I threw it 5 yards behind him.”
The pass was intended for Falcons wide receiver Damiere Byrd but was instead picked off by Vikings cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. Minnesota used that turnover to cash in on a 31-yard field goal and ultimately pulled ahead of Atlanta for the first time all game.
That was one of the Falcons’ two turnovers. The other was a fumble by running back Bijan Robinson, which led to a Vikings touchdown.
Minnesota had two turnovers of its own via fumbles, and Atlanta produced field goals out of both.
“We’ve just got to punch it in,” Heinicke said. “It’s been a reoccurring theme through this year. We’ve been working really hard at it. We should have worked a little harder to try and find out what (the problem) is.
“But I thought we moved the ball pretty well the whole game. That last drive there was awesome.”
It was actually the Falcons’ second-to-last drive that was indeed their best. The series consisted of a game-high 13 plays for 79 yards and ended with running back Tyler Allgeier scoring on a 5-yard carry.
Allgeier’s run and Smith’s reception were the Falcons’ only offensive visits to the end zone. Otherwise, kicker Younghoe Koo made four field goals and defensive lineman Calais Campbell had a safety.
Atlanta was 1-of-2 (50%) in its red-zone trips and 10-of-18 (56%) in its third-down attempts.
“We did turn the ball over. But I thought (Heinicke) operated on third down pretty well,” Smith said. “We’ll obviously huddle up and evaluate everything. But definitely (Heinicke) gave us a chance.”
The Falcons hit the road next week to play the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at State Farm Stadium. After that, Atlanta has its bye.
Surely, come Monday, the question will be asked again: Who is the Falcons starting quarterback in Week 10?
“I’m not really thinking about that right now,” Heinicke said. “I’m still pretty pissed off about the loss.”