Falcons’ Calvin Ridley sets milestone, remains unhappy about season

Calvin Ridley entered the year with the goal of eclipsing 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. The third-year receiver also wanted to accomplish this feat with his Falcons chasing the playoffs and contending for the NFC South.

As for his team goals, those won’t materialize now that the Falcons have fallen to a 4-9 record after their 20-17 loss Sunday to the Los Angeles Chargers. In bittersweet fashion, however, Ridley surpassed the 1,000-yard barrier during the game.

With receiver Julio Jones sitting the game out due to his lingering hamstring injury, Ridley assumed duties as quarterback Matt Ryan’s No. 1 receiver. And Ryan made sure to target Ridley often. In the end, Ridley was targeted 12 times and caught eight passes for 124 yards and a touchdown. Ridley now has 1,029 yards and 8 touchdowns this season.

“I like that I did that because I know I can do that,” Ridley said. “I know I can do way better than that. I feel good about it. I don’t feel good that we lost and I don’t feel too good about the season.”

Ridley’s previous career high in yards came last year when he recorded 866. He’s two touchdowns shy of his career-best of 10 in a single season, which came during his rookie year in 2018. Content with 1,000 yards, he said he knows he can cross the 1,500 mark at some point in his career.

Ridley actually caught his lone touchdown against the Chargers from receiver Russell Gage out of the Falcons’ wildcat formation. Studying the Chargers’ defense this week, the Falcons noticed the unit would check into a cover zero look against teams that went into the wildcat. With this information, the Falcons decided to have Gage, who played quarterback in high school, throw the ball down the field to Ridley if the Chargers moved their safeties up to stop the run.

They did just that when calling the wildcat play, with Gage moving to his right after the snap to avoid the Chargers’ pressure. Gage then delivered the team’s best throw of the day by perfectly placing a 39-yard deep pass into Ridley’s hands in the end zone.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) catches a touchdown pass from wide receiver Russell Gage in front of Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Chris Harris Jr. during the first half Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (Ashley Landis/AP)

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

“All week we were going to put a post on it,” Ridley said. “We couldn’t hit it all week. I was worried they wouldn’t call it because we hadn’t completed it. I said to him earlier that we were going to complete it in the game, the right way. He made a good throw. He put something on it and I made a good catch.”

Said Gage: “It kind of turned into backyard ball. If I’m going to throw it up there I know (Ridley) is going to go get it.”

That play came late in the first quarter to tie the game up at 7. In the second quarter, Ridley caught passes of 32 and 19 yards. With the game tight in the fourth quarter, Ryan leaned on Ridley quite a bit by completing three of six targets to him.

But while Ridley had a great individual performance, the ninth loss of the season stung the same way as the others. Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said Ridley would rather have this kind of individual season with the rest of the team accruing wins on a much more regular basis.

“This is not the way Calvin wanted to do it,” Morris said. “Calvin’s always talking about winning seasons. Not just winning this game, he wants to be a part of winning seasons. Calvin’s a winner, he comes from a winner, he’s made of a winner. He wants to get those things done as a winner. He’s kind of from the same creed I’m from, that stats are for losers. Obviously, that was a personal thing he wanted to do for this season. I’m happy he was able to accomplish those things.”

Ridley, like everyone on the Falcons’ roster, was excited when cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson picked off Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert with less than a minute left to play. The goal from there, obviously, was to move the ball into field goal range and let place-kicker Younghoe Koo attempt a game-winner.

Instead, with 36 seconds left to play, Ryan let go of what he described as a “poor throw” toward Ridley on the right sideline. The ball hung in the air a little too long and was intercepted by cornerback Michael Davis.

The Chargers were able to run five plays and set up place-kicker Michael Badgley with a 43-yard field goal, which he made to win the game.

“It sucks,” Ridley said. “I felt like I could have done a little better in certain moments. I could’ve been there and made some plays. But yeah, it sucks. We definitely should have got that win.”