Falcons RB Bijan Robinson passes first test, scores in debut

ATLANTA -- Bijan Robinson walked back to his locker after his NFL debut and saw his Atlanta Falcons teammate, fullback Keith Smith, chatting with a reporter about what else: the rookie running back's opening day.

Smith has been a part of a lot of plays and debuts in his 10-year NFL career. Seeing his rookie teammate coming, Smith smiled and started describing Robinson as the "most humble kid I've been blessed to work with."

The Falcons have asked Robinson to handle a lot, Smith said, and each time -- Robinson has handled it. The expectations of being a Top 10 pick as a running back. Of being an early focal point in Atlanta's offense. And then Sunday in Atlanta's 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers in Robinson's debut, where he had a receiving touchdown and 83 all-purpose yards.

Robinson heard Smith say "It's very, very impressive" to see how much Robinson handled so early and the rookie stealthy held out his hand to the vet for a low-five.

The first test for Robinson, the No. 8 pick in this year's NFL draft, clearly passed. Many more awaiting.

"We'll line him up all over the place and he's still more that he can do," Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. "He's such a unique player and unique balance, so you get in there and you get in the red zone and he made a heck of a play but we saw it every day in practice.

"I thought he'd do something like that today and he did and I'm glad it helped us win."

Arthur Smith was referencing Robinson's touchdown reception. After catching a swing pass, with Carolina linebacker Frankie Luvu rushing at him, Robinson quickly decided to almost back-juke to make Luvu miss -- a skill Robinson called a combination of "a gift" he has and instincts he's honed.

Then Robinson turned upfield and broke a combination tackle attempt by Carolina safety Vonn Bell and linebacker Shaq Thompson on his way to a touchdown. When he scored, Robinson considered giving the ball back to the official. His teammates insisted he keep it.

"I had to make a decision really fast. And then, after that, you gotta get what you can and then try to get a touchdown ," Robinson said. "What I'm thinking in my head, just catch the ball, make sure I catch the ball first, then get upfield and try to make something happen."

On Friday, Robinson told ESPN he felt "super confident" with his game plan and his mind was clear. The nerves he felt before his preseason debut wouldn't come. He believed in his process.

Part of his process, besides the typical studying, was to do something to get away from football in an attempt to provide balance. This week he watched episodes from the third seasons of both "Ted Lasso" and "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." Being able to do something other than football "has been helping me a lot."

Robinson chose "Lasso" and "Maisel" strategically this week since they are positive and upbeat.

"Watching those shows and watching those perspectives and something that can make me laugh and enjoy the time, I think that's the best thing for me," Robinson said. "Especially going to bed, restudying a little bit of film, restudying the playbook and then go to bed watching that, it's really freeing."

He hasn't finished either season yet, but his plan worked. Robinson had 10 carries for 56 yards and caught all six of his targets for 27 yards and his one touchdown, leading the Falcons in targets and receptions.

Robinson's receiving touchdown was the first by a Falcons running back in his debut since Bubba Bean did so in 1976 and Sunday was the first time a Falcons player scored a touchdown in his first career game since Marvin Hall in 2017.

The last time Robinson played was in the preseason -- a game he expressed nerves in. Not as much Sunday for the regular season opener. In a red pullover and black shorts, Robinson was on the field for warmups by 11:10 a.m., jogging back and forth from the 30-yard line to the goal line before chatting with Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder and catching passes from a Falcons equipment intern, simulating running with his hands and then getting his hands up to catch a pass.

Ten minutes later, he hit his chest once and then pointed with one finger on his left hand to the sky -- Robinson said the message that stuck with him throughout Sunday came from a scripture in the team's chapel: "When God is with us, who can be against us." Every time Robinson came to the sideline Sunday - good series or bad - he said he kept thinking back to it.

"I'd just remind myself that," Robinson said. "And then go back out there with that motivation."

He used it often. Robinson played 31 snaps Sunday according to ESPN Stats and Information research and touched the ball on 16 of those snaps. It was a high work rate for a rookie in his first game, especially one who became such a big part of Atlanta's offense in Week 1.

From how he hit the hole to his juking, tackle-breaking touchdown run, it was something Atlanta had seen before - and knows it needs to see once again.

"The amount of times that we done seen him do some stuff like that," Keith Smith said. "It's becoming the norm almost. You know what I'm saying?

"It's crazy. It's cool to see."