ATLANTA — The No. 8 pick stole the spotlight from the top choice in the NFL draft.
Bijan Robinson caught a touchdown pass in his debut and set up another score with a long run, giving the Atlanta rookie immediate bragging rights over Carolina’s Bryce Young as the Falcons opened with season with a 24-10 victory over the Panthers on Sunday.
Young was intercepted twice by Jessie Bates and didn’t complete a pass longer than 14 yards, hardly what was expected of the former Alabama star after the Panthers traded up to get him at No. 1.
“It’s on me,” Young said. “I have to do a better job of executing.”
Robinson, whose high selection by the Falcons bucked those who say running backs aren’t worth a first-round pick, showed his versatility by taking a swing pass for an 11-yard touchdown.
He also broke off a 21-yard dash that set up Atlanta’s go-ahead TD: Tyler Allgeier’s 3-yard run in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
“This was a super-fun first game for me,” Robinson said. “I just can’t wait to showcase what we’ve got going down the line.”
Allgeier sealed the victory with another 3-yard TD run with just under five minutes remaining.
It was a rough day for both offenses, each of them led by a young quarterback with plenty to prove.
Desmond Ridder, who started the final four games of his rookie season to set up his first full year at the helm in Atlanta, was sacked four times and finished 15 of 18 for just 116 yards.
It was an even grimmer outing for Young, whose Heisman Trophy-winning college career prompted the Panthers to trade a hefty package, including receiver D.J. Moore, to make him the first of three quarterbacks selected in the first four spots of the draft.
“I did a poor job of taking care of the ball and managing certain situations,” Young said. “I’m going to try to grow and learn from this.”
One of his few highlights came in the second quarter, when he hooked up with Hayden Hurst for his first career touchdown on a 4-yard scoring play to leave the game knotted 7-7 at halftime.
Hurst celebrated by flinging the ball high into the stands, seemingly depriving Young of a cherished souvenir. After the game, Young implied that arrangements were being made to get the ball back from whoever caught it.
“That was not where my focus was at,” he said. “We have a great group of guys for things like that.”
Young had two other balls he’d like to have back.
He was intercepted on a pair of nearly identical throws across the middle, both times failing to pick up Bates lurking in the vicinity. Young also had a fumbled exchange, took a delay of game penalty and was sacked twice.
He finished 20 of 38 for 146 yards and failed to become the first quarterback since David Carr in 2002 to win his starting debut after being selected at the top of the draft. The last 15 quarterbacks with that honor are now 0-14-1 in their first starts.
Adam Thielen, one of the receivers brought in by Carolina to fill the void atter Moore was traded, said one loss won’t erode the team’s confidence in Young.
“We have so much faith and trust in him,” Thelien said.
Robinson’s first NFL TD was one to remember, set up by Bates’ first interception that gave Atlanta the ball at the Panthers 17.
Taking a short pass from Ridder, the rookie faked out linebacker Frankie Luvu, smashed through two would-be tacklers and burst into the end zone.
After sitting out a couple of practices, casting doubt on whether he would play without a new contract, Carolina outside linebacker Brian Burns made a strong pitch for a long-term deal.
The two-time Pro Bowler seemed to spend about as much time in the Falcons backfield as Ridder. Burns had 1 1/2 sacks, another hit on the quarterback, and planted Robinson for a big loss.
Burns said he considered not playing, which would have cost him about $900,000 of his $16 million salary this season. But he credited his religious faith with helping him decide to suit up, pointing to a book he’s been reading by former NFL coach Tony Dungy.
“I spent a lot of time with myself. I cut off the world for a minute,” Burns said. “And I played.”
He insisted there was no extra motivation because of his contentious contract talks with the Panthers.
“I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove,” Burns said. “I’m just taking the next step in my game. I want to dominate.”
Bates made quite an impression in his first game with the Falcons, looking very much like the centerpiece of an offseason effort to rebuild the defense through a huge outlay in free agency.
”To keep a team at 10 points, you’ll win a lot of games,” he said. “That’s what good defenses do.”
Panthers CB Jaycee Horn went out in the first half with a hamstring injury and did not return. … Cordarrelle Patterson, set to play the new “Joker” position in the Falcons’ offense, didn’t dress because of a thigh injury.
Panthers: Take on another NFC South rival when the New Orleans Saints visit Charlotte on Sept. 18 for Carolina’s home opener on Monday night .
Falcons: Play their second straight home game to begin the season when the Green Bay Packers visit Atlanta next Sunday.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl