Gerald Riggs, making his first pro start, ran for 202 yards and two touchdowns today to lead the Atlanta Falcons to a 36-28 victory over the New Orleans Saints in both teams' season opener.
Riggs, a third-year running back playing in place of the injured William Andrews, scored on fourth-down runs of three and one yards. He carried 35 times in breaking Andrews' team record of 167 yards, set in his first pro game five years ago to the day. Andrews will miss this season because of a knee injury.
"Gerald is a guy that there's never been any question about his ability," Atlanta quarterback Steve Bartkowski said. "It's just when was he going to get a chance. Unfortunately, William went down for us, but Gerald's an opportunistic guy and he's a great player, a great running back."
Bartkowski threw touchdown passes of 50 and five yards and completed 14 of 21 attempts for 196 yards. Ex-Jet Richard Todd, making his first start for New Orleans, completed 16 of 32 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked five times and intercepted three times.
George Rogers scored twice and gained 102 yards on 20 carries to become the Saints' all-time leading rusher, passing Chuck Muncie.
Riggs' second touchdown came early in the fourth period and put the Falcons ahead, 33-21, after the lead had changed six times. New Orleans came back with an interception by David Waymer to set up a three-yard touchdown pass from Todd to tight end John Tice.
Two plays later, Bartkowski had a pass tipped at the line by linebacker Whitney Paul and intercepted by linebacker Ricky Jackson.
Jackson returned to the eight, but Wayne Wilson's fumble was recovered two plays later at the four by Tom Pridemore. Riggs got the Falcons out of trouble with a 57-yard run, and Mick Luckhurst ensured the victory with a 48-yard field goal.
Other touchdowns by the Falcons came on a 50-yard pass from Bartkowski to Alfred Jackson in the second quarter and a five-yard pass to Stacey Bailey in the third quarter.