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Antone Smith out for the season with broken leg

The talented running back will miss the remainder of 2014, putting his future in doubt.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The first place Atlanta Falcons have lost one of their most explosive players.

According to head coach Mike Smith, Antone Smith broke his leg on Sunday against Carolina and will miss the rest of the year. The lightning-fast running back is the eighth Falcon to be placed on season-ending injured reserve in 2014. So it goes.

Injury analysis

This is a big loss for the Falcons. No, Smith hadn’t been particularly effective the last few weeks, but he’s a home run threat every time he touches the ball. Just one more of those long touchdowns could have made a huge impact down the stretch.

Now, Atlanta will have to lean heavily on the RB triumvirate of Steven Jackson, Devonta Freeman and JacQuizz Rodgers. Freeman has made noticeable improvements throughout his rookie campaign and could be ready for a bigger role. The FSU alum had six carries against the Panthers, the second-most he's received all year, for 28 yards -- good for a 4.67 average. He was on the field for 13 total snaps.

Jackson's burden has been limited for the entire season. The former workhorse has yet to amass 20 carries in a game, averaging 12.8. He may need to step up and take a bigger share of the load moving forward.

This injury comes at a particularly tough time for Smith, who is a pending free agent. Given his production through September and October, along with Arthur Blank’s praise, he was on track for a big pay increase.

But Smith will be 30 next fall, and we don't know what he'll be capable of when he returns. Sure, his leg will heal, but what about the agility that makes him so valuable? The difference between Smith and thousands of lesser athletes is his extra gear. Will he still have it in 2015?

We’ll have to wait and see. Here’s to a speedy and full recovery.