The Atlanta Falcons suffered a devastating injury in their season opener, losing starting strong safety Keanu Neal for the season, the team announced Friday.
Neal suffered a torn left ACL that was revealed following an MRI exam, according to the NFL Network.
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn told reporters after Thursday’s 18-12 loss at the Philadelphia Eagles that the injury to Neal did not appear serious.
Neal went to the sideline because of a knee injury in the second quarter but returned shortly thereafter. He re-injured the knee in the third quarter and was done for the night, needing assistance from the team’s medical staff to leave the field.
A first-round draft pick (No. 17 overall) of Atlanta in 2016, Neal underwent arthroscopic knee surgery before his rookie season after he was hurt in a preseason game. He still played in 14 games that season and was named to the NFL All-Rookie Team.
Neal earned Pro Bowl honors in 2017, starting all 16 games while registering 113 tackles and one interception.
The 6-foot, 211-pound Neal played three seasons at the University of Florida. He had three interceptions in 2014 and ranked 10th in the SEC with 51 solo tackles in 2015.
The Falcons avoided another serious knee injury when the NFL Network reported that running back Devonta Freeman is fine after exiting Thursday’s game, favoring his right knee as he walked off the field.
Freeman was limited to six carries for 36 yards but was on the sideline without a helmet in the fourth quarter. Freeman told the NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo after the game that he was “OK.”
The fifth-year back was stopped twice at the 1-yard line on Atlanta’s opening possession of Thursday’s game, including a fourth-and-goal situation.
Freeman injured his knee in the 2017 regular-season finale. He struggled mightily in Atlanta’s postseason loss to Philadelphia, rushing for only seven yards on 10 carries.
After the season, Freeman revealed he had played with sprained posterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee. He sought a second opinion and was told he did not require surgery.