The Atlanta Falcons lost not only Thursday night's game, but a vital member of the defense.
Safety Keanu Neal is out for the season after suffering a knee injury in the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the team announced Friday. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network's Steve Wyche reported the knee injury was indeed a torn ACL.
ESPN first reported the news.
Coach Dan Quinn initially said after the game that Neal's knee injury didn't appear serious. Alas, an MRI on Friday revealed the tear.
Neal first twisted his knee in the first half last night, but was able to return. He again injured the knee on a non-contact play in the second half.
Losing the third-year pro is a massive blow to the Falcons defense.
The do-it-all safety is one of the key playmakers in Dan Quinn's system. Drafted to play the Kam Chancellor-role, Neal is a hard-hitting safety who can cover and plays every down. In his first two seasons, Neal compiled 222 tackles and 15 passes defended with one interception, which sealed the Falcons playoff spot a year ago. In 2017, his 116 tackles were second-most among safeties.
Second-year safety Damontae Kazee filled in for Neal on Thursday and should be expected to step into the starting role. The only silver lining to Neal's brutal injury is that Kazee has looked fantastic in the little we've seen of him. He made a great open-field tackle on a long Jay Ajayi run last night and produced the hit that forced a Nick Foles interception. In the preseason, Kazee was a speeding bullet all over the field for Atlanta.
Despite the optimism about Kazee, however, Neal's injury could force the Falcons to mine the free-agent pile for help. Could Eric Reid finally find a landing spot?
Neal's injury to open the season is a painful reminder of the brutality of the sport of football. He won't be the last star to see his season wiped away.
The NFL is a battle of attrition, and the Falcons were handed a bad hand off the bat.