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Falcons’ Marcus Mariota steps away from the team after benching, unclear if he will return: report

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota has stepped away from the team and there some uncertainty on when he will be back, if ever, according to a report from The Athletic.

Mariota’s departure comes on the heels of Falcons head coach Arthur Smith announcing that the decision to bench the veteran quarterback was “performance based.” 

Despite not taking a single snap so far in the regular-season, third-round rookie Desmond Ridder will step into the starting role.

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Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota (1) throws as Carolina Panthers defensive end Brian Burns (53) defends during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, in Atlanta. 
(AP Photo/John Amis)

Smith said Mariota’s absence wasn’t ideal, but noted that the team was prepared to be without him. 

“Of course, you want all your guys to be here, but guys have to make decisions. It’s part of professional sports. You have to have contingency plans,” head coach Arthur Smith said.

Smith strangely added that Mariota has been dealing with some sort of lingering knee injury which will likely result in the quarterback being placed on injured reserved.

Mariota’s knee “is nothing that has been an issue this season, but that’s (his) prerogative so … ” Smith clarified on Tuesday.

After the team’s Week 13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Smith left the door open as it related to making a change at the quarterback position.

“We will have some very intense meetings in the next couple days. There will be changes made. Everything we decide to do, I will try to be as transparent as possible,” Smith said on Dec. 5. The second-year head coach previously deflected any questions related to a potential shift at the quarterback position. 

Smith also mentioned that Mariota wasn’t at the team’s facilities last Monday because his wife had gone into labor with their first child.

Marcus Mariota #1 and Desmond Ridder #4 of the Atlanta Falcons walk off the field after the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 23, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Marcus Mariota #1 and Desmond Ridder #4 of the Atlanta Falcons walk off the field after the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 23, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
(Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

According to The Athletic, Smith informed Mariota that Ridder would be starting at quarterback on Thursday morning. Friday, the Falcons learned that Mariota planned to step away from the team.

“Those (conversations) are never easy,” Smith said. “You try to be truthful, whether they agree or not, those are the conversations you have to have.”

Marcus Mariota #1 of the Atlanta Falcons jogs with teammates during warm ups against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on November 10, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Marcus Mariota #1 of the Atlanta Falcons jogs with teammates during warm ups against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on November 10, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 
(Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Mariota signed a two-year, $18.75 million with the Falcons after the team traded longtime Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts in March. 

The former Oregon standout and Heisman Trophy winner has led the Falcons to a 5-8 record. But, Mariota’s passing yards, passing touchdowns and competition percentage all ranking in the bottom half of the league.

Ridder did see significant action during the preseason. He completed 60.1% of his passes for 431 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions in those exhibition games.

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The Falcons are still in playoff contention because they play in the NFC South, a division where every team currently has a losing record.

Atlanta travels to New Orleans this weekend for a pivotal divisional matchup against their primary rival, the Saints.

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