ATLANTA (AP) — All the talk from Atlanta coach Arthur Smith the last two years about Desmond Ridder’s poise and composure meant little until the quarterback demonstrated he could shine in the final minute with a game on the line.
Now Ridder has a last-second comeback win as an impressive answer to his critics.
Ridder passed and ran for touchdowns, providing a response to those who had called for him to be benched, Younghoe Koo kicked a go-ahead 37-yard field goal as time expired, and the Falcons snapped a two-game skid by beating the Houston Texans 21-19 on Sunday.
“Now he’s got evidence, a great fourth-quarter comeback,” Smith said of Ridder.
After Houston took a 19-18 lead with 1:49 remaining, Ridder completed each of his five passes on the final drive to set up Koo’s game-ending kick. The Falcons (3-2) stopped a two-game skid.
“We proved we could stay calm, we could stay collected,” Ridder said. “That was one of my first true two-minute drives. I didn’t try to rush anything, didn’t try to force anything, just stayed within my game.”
It was a strong comeback for Ridder following his three turnovers, including a pick-6, in last week’s 23-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in London.
Ridder had no turnovers against the Texans. His bounce-back performance ended a two-game winning streak for Houston (2-3).
The key play in the game-winning drive was Ridder’s 23-yard completion to Drake London to the Houston 26 that Smith said “essentially decided the game.”
Ridder’s 6-yard TD pass to rookie running back Bijan Robinson and 2-point pass to Tyler Allgeier gave the Falcons a 15-12 lead early in the fourth quarter. Robinson reached back to catch the shovel pass against his hip before running through the middle of the Houston defense into the end zone.
Ridder acknowledged it was “definitely scary” to see Robinson running along the line while still holding the ball behind him.
Houston rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud answered with an 18-yard scoring pass to tight end Dalton Schultz, giving the Texans a 19-18 lead with 1:49 remaining. Schultz found an opening in the middle of the end zone behind safety Jessie Bates.
“We had an urgency on that last drive that we that obviously we need to do a better job earlier in the game,” Schultz said. “We can’t be kicking field goals all day long.”
Stroud set an NFL record by starting his career with 177 pass attempts without an interception. He broke the record previously held by Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott. Stroud set the NFL record for rookies a week earlier when he reached 151 attempts without an interception.
Stroud completed 20 of 35 passes for 249 yards and a score.
Ridder completed 28 of 37 passes for a career-high 329 yards and a touchdown. He had a 7-yard scoring run in the first quarter.
TOO MANY FIELD GOALS, TOO FEW TDS
Before Stroud’s scoring pass to Schultz, the Texans had to settle for four field goals by Kaʻimi Fairbairn, including a 28-yarder with 3 seconds remaining in the first half for a 9-7 lead.
“We were in situations where we could get points and we didn’t,” Houston coach DeMeco Ryans said. “We had to kick field goals when we were in those positions.”
The Falcons overcame two third-quarter turnovers by Robinson and Jonnu Smith. The Texans were held to one field goal from the two takeaways.
“Turning the ball over is a recipe to lose,” Stroud said. “If you get two-plus turnovers in a football game, you should win.”
FIRST-ROUNDERS CATCHING ON
London matched his season high with six catches and set a high with 78 receiving yards while tight end Kyle Pitts set high marks for the year with seven catches for 87 yards. Just as there had been increased criticism of Ridder, the Falcons also had faced questions about failing to utilize Pitts and London, their first-round draft picks in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
Texans: WR Tank Dell did not return after he was evaluated for a concussion following a catch with 29 seconds remaining in the first half. … WR Robert Woods (ribs) left in the third quarter.
Falcons: RT Kaleb McGary suffered a knee injury in the third quarter but Smith was encouraged to see McGary on an exercise bike on the sideline. … CB A.J. Terrell was cleared after being evaluated for a potential head injury late in the first half. … RB Cordarrelle Patterson (thigh) had a 7-yard catch, his first of the season after missing the first three games.
Texans: Host another NFC South foe, New Orleans, next Sunday.
Falcons: Host Washington next Sunday. The Commanders lead the series 17-10-1, including a 19-13 win on Nov. 27, 2022.