Jaguars WR Calvin Ridley eager to show everyone, including the Falcons, his true skills

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — It admittedly took Calvin Ridley “a couple days” to get over the worst performance of his NFL career.

Two dropped touchdown passes. Two false start penalties. Two days of mulling what went wrong and why in a 37-17 loss to Houston.

“You have to throw it away,” Ridley said Wednesday. “Everyone hates dropping a pass. You think I went out there to drop a pass? I come out here and practice hard, catch pretty much everything. You feel me?

“I made a mistake. I can’t wait to get back out there to show the fans, whoever, my mom, my family and my teammates that I’m working hard to be a great player.”

He left out one more: the Atlanta Falcons.

Ridley will travel 4,300 miles (6,900 kilometers) to face his former team for the first time when the stumbling Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2) “host” the Falcons (2-1) at Wembley Stadium in London on Sunday. It’s the first of back-to-back games for Jacksonville across the pond and Ridley’s first venture to London.

Ridley initially tried to downplay facing the team that drafted him 26th overall in 2018 and then traded him for two conditional draft picks last November. But he quickly admitted it’s far from just another game.

“Trying to make it seem normal,” he said, laughing. “I got friends over there, man. You know, it’s, still the first team I played for, and I know a couple guys over there. It’s still love. No hard feelings.”

Ridley insisted that the Falcons ultimately helped him by giving him a fresh start in Jacksonville after nearly two years away from football.

The former Alabama star caught 90 passes for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns despite playing on a broken left foot in 2020. He had 31 receptions for 281 yards and two scores before sitting out the final two months of the 2021 season to focus on his mental health following a home invasion he detailed in an article for The Players’ Tribune. He was suspended for the entire 2022 season for gambling on games while he was away.

The Jaguars gave up a fifth-round draft pick in 2023 and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2024 to get Ridley from Atlanta at the trade deadline last year.

The 28-year-old Ridley, entering the final year of his rookie contract and counting roughly $11 million against the salary cap, had eight catches for 101 yards and a touchdown in the season opener. He’s been mostly quiet since.

His teammates, though, expect him to bounce back in a big way.

“If that opportunity ever comes to play against your former team, it’s definitely an opportunity that you look forward to,” fellow receiver Christian Kirk said. “I know that’s a little bit of an incentive, and whether he treats it like just another game or not, I know for us, we want to get that win for him.”

Added quarterback Trevor Lawrence: “He’s got kind of the spotlight this week.”

Ridley plans to save all the hugs, handshakes and high-fives with former teammates and coaches for after the game. Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts remains one of Ridley’s closest friends, and third-year Atlanta coach Arthur Smith called trading Ridley to Jacksonville a “curveball.”

“That’s part of the job when you step into leadership positions,” Smith said. “There are things you account for and things you don’t account for, but that’s life. I’m always appreciative of the time I got to spend with Calvin. It’s good to see him back out there. Good player.”

Certainly better than what he showed against the Texans. Ridley insists he didn’t start pressing after dropping a TD pass on Jacksonville’s first drive and wasn’t pressing when he made several more mistakes the rest of the way.

“My message to him has always been just be him,” Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said. “Obviously he’ll be excited. … Calvin does a great job of just kind of focusing on Calvin and understanding his role of what we’re trying to get done. I’m looking forward to seeing how he performs.”

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AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

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