Marcus Mariota reportedly leaves Falcons after benching to have knee evaluated; team unsure if he'll return

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota has left the team with no indication of “when or if” he will return, according to The Athletic’s Josh Kendall.

This news comes a day after head coach Arthur Smith announced that the team made a “performance based” decision to bench Mariota for third-round rookie Desmond Ridder ahead of the team’s Week 15 game against the New Orleans Saints.

“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,” Smith said.

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Smith added on Monday that Mariota was also likely to be placed on injured reserve with what Smith described as a “chronic” knee injury.

Mariota’s knee “is nothing that has been an issue this season, but that’s [his] prerogative so … ” Smith clarified via The Athletic on Tuesday.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - NOVEMBER 20: Marcus Mariota #1 of the Atlanta Falcons jogs off the field after Atlanta's 27-24 win against the Chicago Bears at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Marcus Mariota has left the Falcons and may or may not return. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

'The conversations you have to have'

Last week, Smith addressed the press and gave a preview of the looming decision to make a change at quarterback.

“We will have some very intense meetings in the next couple of days. Obviously, I know where we’re at. We understand, too, that we’ve been in some close games lately and we need to get back over the hump,” Smith said. "There will be changes made. Everything that we decide to do I will be as transparent as possible.”


That day, Smith also informed the press that Mariota wasn’t in the building because his wife went into labor with their first child.

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.”

Mariota joined the Falcons this offseason on a two-year, $18.75 million deal after Atlanta traded Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts.


He led Atlanta to a 5-8 record while ranking in the bottom half of the league in passing yards, passing touchdowns and competition percentage. His nine interceptions are tied for seventh-highest in the NFL.

During the preseason, Ridder completed 60.1% of his passes for 431 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. Smith told The Athletic that the Falcons believe the offense “can operate at full capacity” with him in the game.

Atlanta signed Logan Woodside from the Tennessee Titan's practice squad. He will serve as backup quarterback in Mariota's absence.

The Falcons are still in playoff contention, and need to win their remaining two divisional games to keep pace with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers.

Now, the team has an opportunity to see what it has in Ridder before the end of the season, while Mariota tends to his knee and family.

CINCINNATI, OHIO - OCTOBER 23: 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. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Desmond Ridder will start for the Falcons' Week 15 matchup. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)