ATLANTA (AP) — It was a bittersweet afternoon for rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley.
He set a Falcons rookie record with three touchdown receptions for a bunch of big plays in the overtime loss.
After barely factoring in Atlanta’s first two games, he was targeted a team-high eight times, caught a team-best seven passes and registered a game-high 146 yards. It wasn’t enough, though, because Drew Brees’s half-yard sneak pushed the New Orleans Saints to a 43-37 overtime victory Sunday.
That left the first-round draft choice less happy to talk about his scoring plays of 18, 75 and 9 yards.
“I’d really rather have the win, but it means a lot,” Ridley said after lighting up the Saints. “It feels pretty good.”
Ridley didn’t have a catch in Atlanta’s opening game, an 18-12 loss at Phildelphia on Sept. 6.
He had four receptions in a 31-24 win over the Panthers a week ago.
On Sunday, he was busy from the jump.
He lined up in the backfield on Atlanta’s first offensive snap and later in the game as well, and also ran three reverses. Two were wiped out by penalties, leaving him with a carry for 9 yards.
All of his catches counted and the Saints struggled to figure out a way to slow him, especially in the first half when he had five receptions for 129 yards and two scores.
On the first, he beat embattled New Orleans cornerback P.J. Williams to catch an 18-yard touchdown in the right corner of the end zone. Ridley beat Williams for an 11-yard catch to start the Falcons’ next possession. Shortly before halftime, he blew past Williams on a 75-yard scoring play.
After hauling in the long pass from Matt Ryan, he easily outran Saints safety Marcus Williams to the end zone.
Ridley said he wasn’t necessarily looking to be matched up on Williams, and that play was nothing special.
“I just came in ready for anybody. I was prepared. I was ready to help the team win,” he explained. “(It was) just a go ball, run deep. … I’m just getting comfortable, confident.”
Atlanta star wide receiver Julio Jones, who has had a franchise-record 40 games with 100 or more receiving yards, didn’t seem surprised that Ridley riddled the Saints for his first. They both played at Alabama.
“I knew it all along,” Jones said after catching five passes for 96 yards. “He’s a great player. Let him make plays. He made some great plays for us today.”
Ridley’s best play might have come early in the third quarter, when Ryan scrambled left on second-and-goal from the New Orleans 9-yard line.
By that time, the Saints had subbed cornerback Ken Crawley for Williams, who had decent coverage on Ridley in the end zone. When the play broke down, though, Crawley was caught looking at Ryan, and the rookie receiver broke behind left behind the cornerback and the quarterback found him for a score.
With 12 minutes left in the third quarter, Atlanta led 21-16.
“I thought Calvin played really well,” Ryan said after completing 26 of 35 passes for 374 yards and a career-high five touchdown passes. “He stepped up when he had the opportunity to. It was clear from the start it was two guys to account for Julio. That leaves Calvin singled up in 1-on-1 coverage. … Today was special.”
But, even greater for Ridley if the Falcons pulled out a win.
“We knew it was going to be a high-scoring game coming in,” Ridley said. “We’ve just got to be better next time.”
By MATT WINKELJOHN, Associated Press