Desmond Ridder will look to build off his best passing performance of the season when the Atlanta Falcons host the struggling Washington Commanders on Sunday.
Nearly one week after reporters asked Atlanta coach Arthur Smith if he would move in a different direction with his QB1, Ridder connected with 10 different receivers and passed for a career-high 329 yards in the Falcons’ 21-19 comeback win over the Houston Texans last Sunday.
The second-year pro completed 28 of 37 passes and added one passing and one rushing score. On the 10-play, 56-yard game-winning drive in the waning moments, Ridder completed all five of his pass attempts, which eventually led to Younghoe Koo nailing a 37-yard field goal as time expired.
“His teammates believe in him,” Smith said. “And again, you got a quarterback making his ninth NFL start (Sunday), those guys believe in him so it’s more like, ‘Hey, let’s go, we’ve got your back.’ I thought he played well and responded.”
Kyle Pitts and Drake London were heavily involved in the air attack in the win over Houston. Pitts hauled in seven catches for 87 yards, while London had six receptions for 78 yards. It was the first time this season that the talented duo had big outputs in the same game.
Jonnu Smith is tied for the team lead in receptions (21) and leads in receiving yards (246) for Atlanta (3-2), but he has yet to find the end zone. In addition to leading the team in rushing (364 yards), dynamic rookie running back Bijan Robinson has been a reliable weapon in the passing game, sharing the team lead in catches with Jonnu Smith. His one-handed, 6-yard TD grab gave the Falcons a lead against the Texans early in the fourth quarter.
Atlanta’s defense has been one of the league’s top units through five games. The Falcons rank seventh in total yards allowed per game (295.2) and rank 10th in scoring defense (19.2 points allowed per game).
The Commanders (2-3) have lost three straight games and are coming off a disappointing 40-20 loss to the Chicago Bears last Thursday night.
Washington had no answer for the Bears’ offense, in particular Justin Fields and DJ Moore. Fields passed for 282 yards and four touchdowns and added 57 yards on the ground. Moore finished with eight catches for a career-high 230 yards and three TDs.
When asked about his team’s performance, Washington coach Ron Rivera was quick to the point.
“It starts at the top,” Rivera said. “That part is on me.”
One major bright spot for Washington has been the play of quarterback Sam Howell. After passing for 290 yards and a score in a heartbreaking 34-31 overtime loss to Philadelphia in Week 4, Howell put together a 388-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Bears despite being sacked five times.
Following a strong start to the season, running back Brian Robinson had six carries for just 10 yards in the loss to Chicago. Logan Thomas is coming off his best game of the season and has emerged as a favorite target of Howell. He had nine receptions for 77 yards and a score on 11 targets last week.
Right tackle Kaleb McGary (knee), outside linebacker Bud Dupree (wrist) and Jonnu Smith (ankle) were limited in Atlanta’s practice on Wednesday.
Tight end Curtis Hodges (illness) and cornerback Christian Holmes (hamstring) did not participate for Washington in its Wednesday session.