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Keanu Neal out for the season with a torn ACL, per Adam Schefter

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The Atlanta Falcons will be missing their star safety for the rest of the season in a huge blow to the defense.

Wild Card Round - Atlanta Falcons v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

We had hoped against hope that Keanu Neal’s knee injury was not a serious one, but we are not lucky and life is not kind. Per Adam Schefter, Neal is going to miss the rest of the 2018 season, and he’ll have a long road to recovery ahead of him.

It goes without saying that this is a massive loss for the defense. Neal is a physical tone setter at the strong safety position, one who is competent-to-good in coverage, excellent in run support, and tremendous at delivering jarring hits that knock balls loose and terrify wide receivers and tight ends. That physicality and skill is going to be so missed, and it makes that Eagles loss even more costly and upsetting than it already was.

The only positive note, if it can be called that, is that Damontae Kazee has emerged at exactly the right moment. The second year safety will almost certainly step right into Neal’s role, and while he’s not Keanu’s equal by any stretch of the imagination, he’s shown remarkable physicality and very good coverage skills, by and large, here in preseason and the first game of the year. We’ll hope he can be great and soften the blow here, or the defense is genuinely going to suffer. It remains to be seen if the Falcons will start Kazee for Neal or switch up Allen and Kazee, but that’ll be the configuration, one way or another.

The Falcons are going to get some justified questions for the way Neal’s injury was handled last night. He hurt his knee earlier in the game but came back in, as you’d expect a warrior to want to do, but then he went down for good. If the injury was a precursor to the ACL, it was pretty irresponsible to send him back out there, but the team’s reaction Thursday night (Dan Quinn said it didn’t appear to be serious) tells you they were a bit blinded by this.

It goes without saying that the Falcons will need to sign another safety, as well. Jordan Richards is more of a special teamer than a legitimate option on defense at the moment, and while Kemal Ishmael can still play the position in a pinch, the Falcons would probably prefer that he doesn’t have to. There are some good veterans still left out there, including Eric Reid, and the Falcons will likely have one signed by mid-week at the very latest.

We wish Keanu Neal the very best in his recovery, and we hope against hope that the Falcons can weather this season well without him.