Desmond Ridder, Bijan Robinson flash in Falcons’ opening drive

Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder and rookie running back Bijan Robinson made their exhibition-season debuts against the Bengals on Friday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Ridder promptly took the unit down the field, but had a promising drive stall.

“A long drive like that, we had to overcome a couple of penalties,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “That doesn’t please you as a coach. There are a couple of things we have to clean up. We will.”

Ridder tossed a nice ball on third-and-12 to wide receiver Drake London that picked up 21 yards.

Three plays later on a third-and-5, Ridder scrambled around right end for seven yards to pick up the first down at the Bengals’ 4-yard line.

“Overall, some of the stuff we needed to see … playing in the pocket,” Smith said. “Operating in some of those situations, is why they need to play.”

The drive, which started at the Bengals’ 16, was pushed back after right guard Chris Lindstrom was called for holding and right tackle Kaleb McGary was called for a false start to push them back to the 19.

Ridder tossed a 12-yard pass to KhaDarel Hodge to move the ball back to the 7.

Smith really like the scramble and the extension of that play.

“That’s the thing, playing from the pocket,” Smith said. “You’ve heard me talk about that, the pressure of when you can extend plays that’s such a big advantage and the rush plans that you might get.

“Dez (Ridder) is a fast guy and he has a feel for running. It changes some of the calls they can make and how they have to try to contain you. It was good to see.”

Robinson picked up a yard on second down and goal. On third down, Ridder’s pass for Scotty Miller, who was being mauled by a defender, popped up and the ball was intercepted by Cincinnati linebacker Joseph Ossai.

Robinson had four carries for 20 yards during the opening drive. He flashed his big-play ability on his first carry and nearly broke loose on the 12-yard run.

He also caught a pass for a 6-yard gain.

“He’s incredible,” right guard Chris Lindstrom said. “He’s so talented. Works so hard. So, for him to come out and have success is awesome. You can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

Ridder, who started four games last season, was 7 of 9 for 80 yards passing on the opening drive. He finished with a 64.1 passer rating.

The offensive starters were removed after the first drive.

Backup quarterback Taylor Henicke took over for Ridder.

The first drive was rather sloppy as the Falcons, who didn’t play the starters in their exhibition opener against Miami on Aug. 11, committed seven penalties.

Behind a 36-yard field goal by Younghoe Koo, the Falcons held a 3-0 lead late in the second quarter.

Pitts return to action: On second-and-8 on the first drive, Ridder found tight end Kyle Pitts for a 9-yard gain. If the pass hit him in stride it could have been a bigger play.

It was Pitts’ first action since he suffered a knee injury against the Bears on Nov. 20.

“It was good to get him back out there and feel the speed of the game,” Smith said.

Jarrett on defense: Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett saw his first action of the exhibition season. The first-team defense had a stop on their only series of the game.

“It was good to get the unit out there,” Jarrett said. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do. But it did feel good to get out there with the guys and get the work.”

The Falcons didn’t have a sack. Linebacker Kaden Elliss finished with four tackles.

“Run game. Pass game. Some things that we can definitely improve on,” Jarrett said. “Things we can do better. I’m definitely encouraged by how we are playing and how the younger guys are playing as well. I’m definitely pretty pleased with how we came out today”

Bates III on facing Bengals: Falcons safety Jessie Bates III, who was signed in free agency to a four-year $64.02 million, was facing his former team.

“It was good to see everybody from my old team,” Bates said. “I spent five years there. From the trainers, to the media people and to the teammates. It’s always good to see people that you know and spent a lot of time, blood, sweat and tears with. You’ve won championships with as well. It was good to see them.”

Bates felt the first-team defense played well.

“It was good,” Bates said. “It was a long drive. Almost like a real-game type of feel, type of drive. To come out with zero points (allowed), that was a positive. I’m sure there will be things to clean up on the tape.

“I thought we came out and nobody was complaining about being out there and playing. That’s the thing you almost worry about during the (exhibition) game is people being brought in and put out there on the line.”

Injury report: Hodge suffered an ankle injury and wide receiver Penny Hart was checked for a concussion late in the game.

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