Falcons rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley earned his first NFL touchdown Sunday on quite the precise play.
The crafty route runner, lining up at the Carolina 11, faked like he was going outside. Then he took off back to the inside. Carolina rookie cornerback Donte Jackson was left in Ridley’s wake.
Ridley hauled in the pass at the 3-yard line and raced on into the end zone to help send the Falcons on their way to the 31-24 victory over the Panthers.
Ridley slammed the ball with a big looping right hand spike before fellow wide receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu came over to congratulate him.
“It was pretty good,” Ridley said. “Same thing I did in practice. It was a really good feeling and for Matt to connect with me for my first touchdown, it felt good.”
In his NFL debut, Ridley played 46 of 70 offensive snaps (66 percent) in the season-opening 18-12 loss to the Eagles on Sept. 6. He was targeted on two plays, but didn’t have a catch.
“We wanted to make sure we were pretty intentional about his involvement,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.
Ridley was heavily involved as he played 35 of 63 offensive snaps. He caught four passes for 64 yards, three yards rushing on a “jet sweep” and had 50 yards on two kickoff returns for 117 all-purpose yards.
The last time a Falcons rookie recorded 100 all-purpose yards, including at least one return yard, was Harry Douglas for 188 all-purpose yards (93 punt return yards, 92 receiving, three rushing) on Nov. 23, 2008, against Carolina.
But the touchdown was crucial. It helped the Falcons’ offense get out of its red-zone scoring funk.
“Oh, I thought it was great,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “He ran a great route, really great patience versus man-to-man coverage, to be able to kind of reset his stem of the route and be able to separate at the top, that's what he's capable of doing, creating separation.”
Ridley, the Falcons’ 2018 first-round pick, was the 26th player taken overall in the draft. He was selected two picks behind Carolina’s D.J. Moore. Moore, who played on 17 snaps in the game, has a 51-yard touchdown catch.
“I was proud and happy for Calvin,” Ryan said. “But beyond that, I thought he played really well for us in the return game and also catching the ball for us.”
The Falcons’ defensive backs also took some pride in Ridley’s game. They’ve been helping him get ready for the season, too.
“Just get out there, run your routes, do your job and sooner or later that ball is going to come,” safety Ricardo Allen said. “And when that ball comes just make the most of your (opportunities) and he did. He gives us trouble on scout team, he works hard when he goes with the number one offense, so he gets us ready for the game every week.”
Ridley was happen to see the offense score on all four of its trips inside the Panthers’ 20-yard line.
“We lost the Eagles game and looked at what mistakes were made and we fixed it,” Ridley said. “We came out and played a complete football game. We know we are capable of scoring lots of points and helping the team move the ball.”
Ridley wanted to make sure the Falcons didn’t get off to a 0-2 start.
“You want to make a statement the next game that we are a great team and can move the ball and make plays,” Ridley said.
Notes: The offensive line did not allow a sack on 28 pass attempts and cleared the way for 170 rushing yards on 32 carries, including two rushing touchdowns from Ryan. Carolina’s defense had six sacks and 10 quarterback hits in a 16-8 win over Dallas in Week 1… Running back Tevin Coleman recorded his second career 100-yard rushing game with 107 yards on 16 carries. He had 110 yards against the Vikings on Nov. 29, 2015.