After one day of training camp, the Atlanta Falcons have settled on the team’s new starting quarterback. The job will go to Marcus Mariota, the former No. 2 overall pick who is entering his first season with the franchise.
With Mariota tabbed as the starter, rookie Desmond Ridder, the 74th overall pick in the year’s draft, will serve as Atlanta’s backup quarterback.
“Obviously, we’ve got a plan for each of them. Marcus is the starter,” said Falcons quarterbacks coach Charles London, via The Athletic. “That’s how we’re going into this thing.”
After two years as Derek Carr’s backup in Las Vegas, Mariota was signed by the Falcons shortly after the team traded longtime starter Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts. The move reunites Mariota with Falcons coach Arthur Smith, who previously worked with Mariota during their time with the Titans. Shortly after joining the Falcons, Mariota said the chance to work against with Smith was a big factor in his decision to sign with Atlanta.
“Loyalty is very important to me,” Mariota told Rob DeMello of KHON2 News. “It is something that we all live off of here in Hawaii. Art has been somebody that’s been in my corner for a long time. I appreciate everything he’s done for me.
“I’m excited for this opportunity. I’m excited to be part of this organization and looking forward to just getting out there.”
The 28-year-old quarterback was an immediate starter for the Titans, who made him the second overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. His career started off well enough, as he threw four touchdowns in his first regular-season game, a blowout win over the Buccaneers. Despite injuries, enduring 38 sacks in 12 games and a 3-9 record as a starter, Mariota’s rookie season was largely a success, as he threw for 19 touchdowns (along with two touchdown runs) against 10 interceptions.
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Mariota’s growth before his rookie and second season was apparent. In 15 games, he threw 26 touchdowns against nine interceptions while taking 15 fewer sacks than he did as a rookie. He also posted an 8-7 record as the Titans’ starting quarterback.
Things started to take a turn after that. Mariota won his first playoff game in 2017, but he also threw more interceptions that season than touchdown passes. He had another up-and-down season in 2018 and was replaced by Ryan Tannehill six games into the 2019 season.
Mariota signed that offseason with the Raiders while accepting a backup position behind Carr, throwing just 30 touchdowns in two seasons in Las Vegas. He played exceptionally well in relief of an injured Carr during a three-point loss to the Chargers late in the 2020 campaign.
“It was a great reset,” Mariota said of his time in Las Vegas. “Obviously, being out there on the field, getting out there and playing is what I want to do. But I kind of needed that in my career. Unfortunately, with everything that happened in Tennessee, I was a little beat up, both mentally and physically. To get that reset, to get to be a part of that great quarterback room in Vegas, really has kind of propelled me for this moment. I’m excited, I’m prepared, I feel great, and I’m looking forward to getting out there in Atlanta.”
Mariota was the second former No. 2 overall pick to sign with a new team during the offseason. Mitchell Trubisky, who earned a Pro Bowl nod as a member of the Bears, is hoping to revive his career in Pittsburgh after spending the 2021 season as Josh Allen’s backup in Buffalo. Mariota is hoping to make the most of his new opportunity in Atlanta, where the Falcons are coming off a 7-10 campaign during Smith’s first season as coach.
“They’re going to get 110%. Everything I do, I try to do to the best of my abilities,” Mariota said. “I’m very honored and privileged to have this opportunity. I’m going to do whatever it takes to help my teammates be the best that they can be. And we’re just fighting to go get wins.”