Falcons QB Marcus Mariota leaves after benching, team unsure if he will 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 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,” head coach Arthur Smith said.

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.

"The conversations you have to have"

Last week, Smith addressed the media on Monday (Dec. 5) 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 that day 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 with passing yards, passing touchdowns and competition percentage all ranking in the bottom half of the league, while his nine interceptions are tied for seventh.

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.

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