SUWANEE, Ga. -- Going fast has never been a problem for Tim Dwight.
But he didn't make an impact at receiver for the Atlanta Falcons until he realized the importance of slowing down.
The 5-foot-8 Dwight caught two touchdown passes last weekend in just the second NFL start, helping the struggling Falcons (2-6) beat the Carolina Panthers 27-20.
"I've always gone 100 mph in everything I've done," said Dwight, whose other pursuits have included cliff diving and motorcycle racing. "But I'm starting to learn."
Dwight was inserted into the lineup to give the Falcons the deep threat they have been missing since the release of Tony Martin. For a guy who was a nationally ranked sprinter in college and is usually the shortest player on the football field, the natural tendency is to run full speed at every opportunity.
But that is only one aspect that makes a great receiver -- and not even a necessary one.
"Jerry Rice shows you don't have to have 4.3 or 4.4 speed to get open," Dwight said. "There's probably only a few receivers in the league who have legitimate 4.4 speed. Rice has never been lower than 4.6 and he's one of the best receivers who's ever played the game."
Dwight can draw some of those same lessons from one of his teammates. Terance Mathis is a productive receiver even though he's 32 years old, only 5-foot-10 and hardly blessed with world-class speed.
"I'm trying to get him to relax a little more," Mathis said. "He needs to slow his pace a little bit in his routes, attack the ball at different angles and read the defensive backs."
Deception is the key, according to Mathis, who makes himself look faster by running routes at different speeds.
"If you come off the line like you're running the 100 meters, the defensive back is going to be tensed up and make sure he's ready," Mathis said. "But if you come off the line nice and smooth, like you're running the 400, then he'll have no idea what you're going to do."
Besides, Dwight can still display his speed and reckless abandon while returning punts and kickoffs. While the Falcons are looking to move other players into those roles, Dwight continues to be the main return specialist.
As a rookie, he worked mainly on special teams, thrilling fans with his daredevil style and capping his season with a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
Dwight played sparingly as a receiver, catching only four passes for 94 yards, which led him to believe it would take three or four years before he handled that role fulltime.
Then, his progress was slowed even more by a recurring hamstring injury, which caused him to miss two games. But the Falcons were desperate for speed after releasing Martin, their leading receiver in 1998, when he faced federal money-laundering charges.
Two weeks ago, Dwight started for the first time against Pittsburgh. He caught three passes for 44 yards, but also messed up a pass route in the end zone on the final play of the game, costing the Falcons a chance to win.
Undeterred, he came back against Carolina with three more catches for 61 yards, including touchdown receptions of 35 and 4 yards.
"It felt good to be a full part of the team," Dwight said. "The touchdowns were nice, but I felt more proud when I looked at the film and saw myself blocking someone in the running game."
Dan Reeves thought he was getting a specialty receiver when Dwight was picked in the fourth round of the 1998 draft. Now, the Falcons coach believes he might have gotten a steal.
"Tim really is an explosive player," Reeves said. "He has gotten to the point where he is healthy now, and you can count on him. He is getting better as a receiver because he is learning to run routes. He has got good hands and can catch the football, but controlling your speed as a receiver is a difficult thing to do a lot of times."
Sometimes, slower is better.