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How Marcus Mariota's Tenure Changes Falcons Identity Despite Early Exit

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota was benched Thursday in favor of rookie Desmond Ridder, bringing his stint as starting quarterback to a close. However, the impact Mariota had on the Falcons offense will live on for years to come.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota enjoyed one of the most memorable days of his life Monday, as his first child was born. Three days later, Mariota's life changed once more - but this time, the emotion was much different.

The former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 2 overall draft pick officially lost his starting job to rookie third-round pick Desmond Ridder on Thursday, bringing an end to his 13-game stretch under center in Atlanta.

But for Mariota, the benching is more than likely just the last page in this specific chapter ... it could very well have marked his final opportunity to prove he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL.

Mariota, 29, spoke extensively over the offseason about how grateful he was to receive a second chance to start after being benched in his fifth season with the Tennessee Titans. As has been well-documented, the offensive coordinator during Mariota's demotion was now-Falcons coach Arthur Smith.

Yet both sides embraced the chance to reunite - Smith in need of a quarterback to be "the guy who follows the guy" after the Falcons traded Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts, and Mariota eager to prove he was a different player ... a better player.

Rather than running from the challenge, Mariota took it head-on, for his pride and personal drive more than anything else.

"A lot of it was I wanted to redeem myself," said Mariota in October, when discussing why he signed with Smith and the Falcons. "I really believe in what Arthur's doing; I really believe in this scheme. I didn't play well enough (in Tennessee), and I wanted to have an opportunity to redeem myself, to be able to show that I can play in this system."

And perhaps this is why the situation is so difficult.

Mariota often spoke of how important confidence is. He went to great lengths to discuss his "long journey" to get back to the mental state he needed to be in to succeed. With the expectations he faced upon entering the league and relative lack of production, many had written him off as another draft bust - but the second chance in Atlanta gave him a chance to override that.

Now, Mariota's back on the bench, likely looking at another period of reflection and, potentially, an even longer journey before getting another shot as a starter - if ever. It's particularly tough when considering the type of person he is off the field; teammates rave about Mariota's consistency and leadership, and he comes off as incredibly genuine and humble.

Ultimately, the numbers just weren't there to pair with the intangibles, and the Falcons simply had to go another way.

But most important to note, while Mariota's tenure under center was short-lived, it wasn't a failure - the impacts he had on Atlanta's offense will permeate through the rest of Smith's tenure.

In year one of the Smith era, with Ryan at the helm, the Falcons held the league's 31st-ranked rushing attack, a far cry from the elite numbers his offense delivered with the Titans. The idea that he was made by Tennessee running back Derrick Henry began to grow.

But Smith, with Mariota's help, quieted all doubters this year, currently sitting No. 3 in rushing offense, totaling over 100 yards in all but one game. The Falcons are one of just two teams to run for 90 yards in every game this season; the other? The AFC-leading Buffalo Bills.

Atlanta's done it with fifth-round rookie Tyler Allgeier leading the way at 604 yards, while star running back Cordarrelle Patterson is a close second at 566 despite missing four games.

Mariota ranks third on the team with 438 yards while adding four touchdowns and picking up 30 first down on the ground. A common remark from opponents was that Mariota forced defenses to defend all 11 players, adding several variables that simply weren't present the year before.

Above all else, Mariota helped give the Falcons an offensive identity, showing exactly what Smith embodies as a play caller, so much so that Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor dubbed the offense "the Atlanta system."

His legs helped open things up and added an element of creativity that bailed Atlanta out several times throughout the season, but also got him in trouble, most notably in the loss to the Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football.

In the end, there were too many shortcomings to overcome - but Mariota's tenure with the Falcons should be remembered for what he did, not what he didn't.

What he did was help change the guard and officially close the book on the Ryan era.

What he did was illustrate the strengths of Smith's scheme and give the Falcons a clear identity to build on moving forward.

What he did was keep Atlanta competitive throughout much of what was deemed a significant rebuilding period, giving Ridder more time to find his footing in the NFL.

And perhaps most importantly, what he did was show up to the building with the same mentality every single day, serving as a phenomenal leader and role model for a Falcons team that entered the season as the second-youngest group in football.

In what should've been one of the best weeks of his life, the new dad in Mariota has instead seen the closing of another chapter in the book that is his whirlwind professional career.

And while it may be over for him, his impact has a strong chance to last well beyond his time in Atlanta.

You can follow Daniel Flick on Twitter @DFlickDraft

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