ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta’s Desmond Ridder and Washington’s Sam Howell are coming off career-best passing games as they prepare to face each other Sunday in a matchup of second-year quarterbacks.
The Commanders (2-3) will try to snap a three-game losing streak. Washington has allowed 33 or more points in four consecutive games, including last week’s 40-20 home loss to Chicago. The poor defensive showing overshadowed Howell’s career-high 37 completions and 388 yards.
Ridder, meanwhile, posted his first 300-yard game, setting career highs with 28 completions and 329 yards in the Falcons’ 21-19 win over the Houston Texans. Ridder passed and ran for touchdowns and led a last-minute drive to set up Younghoe Koo’s 37-yard field goal as time expired.
It was a rebound performance by Ridder one week after his three turnovers in a loss to Jacksonville led to questions about his hold on the starting job. The Falcons (3-2) have an opportunity to move two games over .500 for the first time since 2017, their last winning season.
Ridder said good protection from Atlanta’s offensive line put him in position to flourish against Houston and will be the key against Washington’s pass rush led by Montez Sweat. Ridder was sacked 16 times in the first four games and was not dropped behind the line by the Texans.
“First, with everything we do, it starts up front,” Ridder said Wednesday. “Those guys gave me a great amount of time back there to sit back, make my reads, and deliver a ball. The challenge this week is their front four, front five, or some good dudes up there rushing the passer.”
The Commanders’ offense was one-dimensional against Chicago. Washington dropped back to pass on its final 55 snaps, starting at the midpoint of the second quarter.
“Obviously, I think we’ve been in some situations where we’ve been down more than we’d like to be down,” Howell said. “We got to do a better job of starting faster and not putting ourselves in those situations.”
The Commanders lost one of their starting safeties, Darrick Forrest, for at least the next four games with a fractured shoulder. It was a blow to the NFL’s 21st-ranked defense.
It also doesn’t help that reserve safety and All-Pro special teams player Jeremy Reaves also landed on injured reserve with a partially torn ACL. Forrest’s spot will fall to rookie Quan Martin and second-year pro Percy Butler.
“Let’s get ready to roll and we don’t have time to worry about those things,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “But we drafted Percy for a reason. We got Quan for a reason, and this is why.”
Washington arguably has a bigger worry at cornerback. Rookie Emmanuel Forbes has been picked on by opponents so much it led to the first-round pick getting benched in the Bears game.
NEW TARGET FOR RIDDER
Ridder’s success in finding wide receiver Drake London and tight ends Jonnu Smith and Kyle Pitts provided balance in Atlanta’s offense, which had relied heavily on running backs Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier.
Ridder completed passes to 10 players and now has another target after the Falcons acquired wide receiver Van Jefferson from the Los Angeles Rams on Tuesday. Jefferson joined practice on Wednesday, though it’s not clear whether he’ll be active against Washington.
The Falcons’ average of 69,436 tickets distributed for their first three home games ranks 16th in the NFL, slightly lower than their 2022 average of 69,583. Even so, Ridder says fans are making a bigger impact.
The Falcons are 3-0 at home and Ridder credits crowd noise at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“Oh, 100 percent, it is way louder than last year,” Ridder said.
Howell was sacked five times last week to raise his total this season to a league-high 29. The Falcons have only five sacks in five games, tied for last in the league with the New York Giants, including no sacks last week against Houston.
‘DO YOUR JOB’
There was a new sign on the door to the locker room at the Commanders practice facility that read, “Do your job.” That came after Rivera looked at video and studied some numbers about his team’s three-game skid.
“There’s a sense and a feel that we’re not doing the things we need to do,” Rivera said. “We’re not doing enough. We got to do everything that’s involved with your job, and that’s kind of the emphasis.”
What’s not going right? A little bit of everything.
Rivera said after that defeat he wasn’t considering making any changes to his coaching staff, and players accepted responsibility for some of the shortcomings.
AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.
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