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Marcus Mariota vs. Desmond Ridder: Falcons Must Decide Between Playoff Vet or Optimistic Rookie

The Atlanta Falcons in a unique spot deciding between Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder. Where will the team go?

The Atlanta Falcons face a conundrum with a bye this week.

With just four games to go in the schedule, and the Falcons' playoff hopes fleeting but still realistic at 5-8, Atlanta must decide what to do at quarterback.

The Falcons rank 31st in the NFL in passing yards and 28th in the league overall, so if the team had room for improvement, that's the area to fix.

Many were surprised that Marcus Mariota, who has been a backup since 2019, came into Atlanta and led the team to a stronger-than-expected start. Halfway through the season, the Falcons were 4-4 and tied for the NFC South lead.

However, Mariota's struggles in recent weeks have affected the team's record and the Falcons have lost four of their last five games, pushing them 1.5 games back of first place.

Mariota is a proven veteran and he's given the Falcons a surprising chance to compete for a playoff berth this year, which has sidelined promising rookie Desmond Ridder.

The Falcons drafted Ridder in the third round of this year's draft as a solution should Mariota not pan out. So far, Mariota has panned out, but the novelty is starting to wear off.

Head coach Arthur Smith explained the rationale behind his decision-making at the quarterback position.

“We’ve got to get over this hump here, and there are a lot things at stake,” Smith said earlier this week. “It’s going to be what’s best for this team short term and long term.”

Long term, starting Ridder is clearly the best move. He's a rookie with potential that has yet to be realized. But what if he's not ready yet?

The Falcons have the chance to make their first playoff appearance in five years, and there shouldn't be any reason to squander that opportunity when it is still attainable in December.

But given Mariota's recent performances, Ridder could be a more viable option to win the next Falcons game.

Moving off Mariota won't be easy. With the team in a playoff race, Mariota on paper is the better player right now. He's won playoff games in the past and has more experience than Ridder, but it might be time to take a risk, swing for the fences, and pass the ball off to the future to win games in the present.

Follow Jeremy Brener on Twitter @JeremyBrener.

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