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Tuesday November 13th, 2018 2:28AM

Falcons safety Keanu Neal suffers season-ending knee injury

By The Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons will look at their current roster to replace Keanu Neal, the safety who will miss the remainder of the season after tearing a ligament in his left knee Thursday night in an 18-12 opening loss at Philadelphia.

Coach Dan Quinn said Friday he and general manager Thomas Dimitroff discussed outside options that could include free agent Pro Bowl safety Eric Reid.

"We have talked about that," Quinn said when asked specifically about Reid.

Quinn didn't rule out looking to acquire help in the future, but he said the first option would be a combination of Damontae Kazee, who replaced Neal in the game, and Jordan Richards, a safety who was acquired from the New England Patriots on Aug. 31.

"We'd like to go in-house first," Quinn said. "The reason is the presence of Jordan and the emergence of Kazee. We'll go down that road first. Then they'll definitely be, when you put a player down for the year on IR, there will be some opportunities that we could look at as well. But from a starting standpoint look in-house first."

The loss of Neal, a leader on the defense who was selected to his first Pro Bowl in 2017, is a major blow to the Atlanta defense.

"It's very disappointing," defensive end Takkarist McKinley said following a team meeting on Friday. "He is a leader on this team, our best player. Losing him, someone else has got to step up. We've all got to step up."

Friday's news was especially devastating because the initial diagnosis of the Falcons medical staff, which Quinn relayed to reporters following the game, was the injury wasn't believed to be serious. The team learned Friday Neal had torn his anterior cruciate ligament.

"You can imagine he was certainly heartbroken," said Quinn of Neal. "... It was a tough, emotional day."

Neal used his Twitter account to pass along a message of faith. "TRUST in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. He has a plan," Neal wrote.

The injury news added more shock to a Falcons locker room reeling from another close loss to the Eagles. After being stopped on the goal line in a playoff loss in Philadelphia last season, the Falcons again were denied on five plays in the red zone to end the game.

Then came Friday's news that Neal was lost for the season.

"You can't replace a guy like that," said cornerback Desmond Trufant. "We've just got to pray for him and pick up the slack."

Neal hurt his knee in the first half, returned in the second half and then left the game for good.

Quinn said he didn't think Neal aggravated the injury by returning to the game.

Reid, 26, knelt beside San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the sideline during national anthems in the 2016 season to protest social injustice. Reid continued his protest in 2017. He filed a collusion grievance against the NFL in May after he was not signed as a free agent last offseason.

The NFLPA has filed a grievance on Reid's behalf.

Reid started 69 of 70 games with 10 career interceptions and remained unsigned despite attracting interest from Cincinnati and Tennessee.

Neal was a 2016 first-round draft pick from Florida and one of the key building blocks on Quinn's defense. Neal had 113 tackles with one interception, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries while starting every game last season.

Neal also has set the pace for the defense with his physical style.

"His physical nature is one that he plays like a linebacker, but is fast enough to play in the middle part of the field and play outside," Quinn said. "We'll certainly miss him because of the physical nature he plays with."

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