Desmond Ridder still striving for improvement after 2-0 start

ATLANTA -- Desmond Ridder had to think. Even then, he couldn’t quite come up with an answer. It was about a half-hour after he led the Atlanta Falcons to a 12-point fourth-quarter comeback, his fourth straight win as the team’s starting quarterback, and he ended up in a very elementary conversation.

Ridder started talking about grades.

Not the grades the coaches give him, rather the ones he gives himself weekly. Rarely does it go well. Last week against the Carolina Panthers, he gave himself a C+. This week, without watching the film yet, he gave himself a C-range grade after the Falcons beat the Green Bay Packers, 25-24.

A’s in his career?

“Not very many,” Ridder said. “That’s just who I am. That’s just who I am as a person.”

The last one might have come early in his career -- his college career at Cincinnati. Admittedly harsh, he’ll look at every throw. It isn’t just about the overall result, but how his team got there.

Sunday against the Packers had a bit of everything. It had his first career interception -- Kenny Clark hit him as he threw -- and had two other potential picks dropped. He also led a double-digit comeback, picked up his fourth straight win and looked as good with his legs -- 10 carries, 39 yards, one touchdown -- as he did with his arm -- 19 of 32 passing for 237 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Ridder looks at reads he could have made, getting in-and-out of line-of-scrimmage checks, game clock management. Ridder was excited, surely, but it was tinged with a work-in-progress motif.

For two weeks, Ridder has talked about early rhythm and how his offense has not been in one thanks t slow starts and inefficiencies. The Falcons had four punts in the first five possessions in the opener and then opened with an interception Sunday. In his last three starts, Atlanta has gone three-and-out -- or worse -- on opening drives.

“Obviously you try to get in the flow of the game and obviously snap one, you want to be in the flow,” Ridder said. “Yeah, I would say sometimes it takes a little bit longer to get going. That’s one thing, this offseason, talking this offseason, that we worked on is how can we be able to get out there from play one, be in that rhythm, be in that flow.

“That’s one thing I will obviously continue to work on.”

While the start is a struggle, the end is when Ridder appears most comfortable. Where his coach, Arthur Smith, continues to mention Ridder’s ability to perform in critical situations.

When Atlanta trailed by 12 points in the fourth quarter, the Falcons still believed in themselves and in Ridder, making his sixth career start. Ridder completed 6 of 8 passes in the fourth quarter, from a 45-yard flea flicker to Mack Hollins to short screens to Bijan Robinson.

“He’s naturally a leader,” tight end Jonnu Smith said. “That’s kind of what you want. No, that is what you want. Just to see him grow and blossom, see him make the strides he’s been making, I’m glad he’s the one throwing me the rock.”

Left tackle Jake Matthews, the longest-tenured Falcon and a team captain, noticed Ridder’s leadership capabilities immediately. It’s something Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot highlighted in his draft process.

And they’ve seen it grow on the field, both in how he leads and how he plays when his team needs it the most.

“Guys believe in him. You can see it,” Arthur Smith said. “I think in those critical situations, he’s been at his best and that’s been his history.”

He went 22-2 his last two years as a starter at Cincinnati. He’s 4-2 with four straight wins, including 2-0 this year, as a pro. And on a day where Smith deemed it “efficient,” Ridder was still critical in the moments after.

What does Ridder do to get an A on his own grading scale?

“Pretty close to perfection on that stat sheet,” Ridder said. “And then you go back and watch the film and you made every protection check right, you made every can or check in the run game, everything was 100 percent.

“You went out of there healthy. You won the game, most importantly.”

Perfection or not, the obvious is true: Week over week, Desmond Ridder has shown he can improve.