ATLANTA - Desmond Ridder is still searching for his first touchdown pass three games into his career.
Getting his first win, however, felt pretty good.
"We obviously know that we can’t be in the playoffs this year," Ridder said, "but one thing we talk about is that we want to finish these last two games strong, finish it for something good for the future."
Ridder helped set up Younghoe Koo’s 21-yard field goal on the final play, lifting the Falcons over the Arizona Cardinals 20-19 on Jan. 1 to end a four-game skid.
In a matchup of teams eliminated from playoff contention, Ridder was 19 of 26 for 169 yards and no interceptions. It was his third start as he auditions for a starting job next season.
"You can’t take anything for granted," Ridder said. "This is one thing, obviously, that I do not take for granted. Coming out here next week, this will obviously be the last game of my rookie season. We’re not taking any of these games for granted, any of these plays for granted."
The Falcons (6-10) improved to 5-8 in one-possession games. They were 7-2 in such games last season.
The Cardinals (4-12), playing with their fourth starting quarterback in four weeks, have lost six straight and eight of nine. David Blough completed 22 of 40 passes for 222 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions filling in for Colt McCoy, who is sidelined with a concussion.
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JANUARY 01: J.J. Watt #99 of the Arizona Cardinals chases after Desmond Ridder #4 of the Atlanta Falcons during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 01, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
"I’m the fourth quarterback in four weeks," Blough said. "I get it. It’s not an ideal situation. It’s not ideal for anybody. (Coach Kliff Kingsbury) does an unbelievable job of not flinching and helping me get up to speed and just be able to go out and operate. We came up short."
Ridder drove Atlanta 72 yards in 12 plays in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. The Falcons reached the red zone with 1:49 to play and ticked down the clock to set up Koo’s game-ending kick.
Ridder nearly had his first career TD pass before Cordarrelle Patterson dropped the ball in the end zone in the fourth.
Tyler Allgeier and Patterson combined for 125 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 29 carries.
Arizona went up 16-14 on Matt Prater’s 36-yard field goal in the third and 19-17 with 4:57 remaining on Prater’s 57-yarder.
The Falcons took a 7-3 lead early in the second on Allgeier’s 5-yard TD run, but Ridder soon lost a fumble to Leki Fotu on a snap at the 11-yard line, and the Cardinals converted for a touchdown to make it 10-7 on Trey McBride’s short touchdown catch.
Atlanta later went for it on fourth-and-two from the 9 before Ridder’s pass bounced in front of Drake London in the end zone, but he got a reprieve when Richie Grant blocked and recovered a punt at the 5. Patterson ran in for the score, and the Falcons led 14-13 at halftime.
"It was some good situational stuff for Desmond," Atlanta coach Arthur Smith said. "It continues to pay off. I thought we executed in some critical situations. Obviously there’s a lot of things we need to clean up. We had the fumble down there. The blocked punt kind of balanced it out, I guess."
STILL GETTING IT DONE
Arizona defensive end J.J. Watt sacked Ridder early in the third quarter and now has 10 1/2 this season. Watt, 33, is a three-time AP Defensive Player of the Year and a five-time All-Pro who is retiring after the season. It marks his sixth season with at least 10 sacks.
The Cardinals lost linebacker Isaiah Simmons (leg), receiver Robbie Anderson (back) and defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter (knee) in the first half. Simmons returned to the game, but the others did not. Running back James Conner (shin) left in the second half. Falcons fullback Keith Smith (concussion symptoms) left late in the second quarter but returned in the second half. Allgeier walked off the field with an undisclosed injury early in the fourth but returned. Running back Avery Williams was ruled out in the fourth with a foot injury.
The teams began the game ranked high in 2023 draft positioning with Arizona No. 4 and Atlanta No. 6.
Smith sidestepped questions about practice squad player Cameron Batson, who was arrested over the weekend after an altercation with police.
"We put out the statement, and I’m gonna let that stand," the coach said.
Smith wouldn’t even say if Batson was still on the roster.
"I’m just gonna go with the statement. We’ll leave it at that."
Not long after No. 1 Georgia held off No. 4 Ohio State in a game that ended at a little after midnight, personnel at Mercedes-Benz Stadium worked through the night to get the field ready.
Cardinals: At San Francisco next Sunday.
Falcons: Host Tampa Bay next Sunday